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The government wants to ban online shopping bots, resellers be damned

The “Stopping Grinch Bots Act” aims to stop “cyber Grinches” from using computer software to swoop up this season's hottest toys.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 02: Philip Kamau, 11, poses with a 'Star Wars Boba Fett Starship', one of...
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Resellers have come for your holiday gifts.

While individual brands like Telfar and GOAT have formulated drop technology to deter resellers — and their bots — businesses outside the streetwear space are struggling to protect their stock from the product flippers. Inventories of this year’s most popular holiday toys have been hijacked by bots, and now lawmakers including Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have introduced a bill called the “Stopping Grinch Bots Act” to crack down on the “cyber Grinches.”

Limited stock — Already, businesses have been disproportionately affected by supply chain disruptions, causing shortages of products. Resellers using bots to scoop up stock only exacerbate this issue, lawmakers argue, making items nearly impossible to buy — at least, for retail prices.

One of this year’s hottest toys, the Got2Glow Fairy Finder, retails for $40 and is reselling on sites like eBay at prices between $50 to $85 dollars. eBay

Holiday seasons past have been tainted by similar resellers, who seek out the year’s most desired toys in order to flip them for profit. Yet the growing popularity of bots — which can speed through checkout much faster than humans can — has spoiled the hope of landing any popular online purchase. And as companies try their best to block the bots with Captcha systems and lottery-based draws, the digital operations only grow more sophisticated, utilizing different accounts as well as VPN and proxy servers to conceal the number of purchases they’re making.

An attempt to ban bots — Now that bots have targeted businesses outside the streetwear space — affecting a much larger demographic, including children — there may be hope for legal repercussions. “This bill seeks to stop Cyber Grinch greed from ruining kids’ holidays,” Blumenthal says in a statement. “New tools are needed to block cyber scammers who snap up supplies of popular toys and resell them at astronomic prices. Price gouging hot toys by Grinch bots should have zero tolerance.”

Shoppers may be better off trying to buy their gifts in-person. Stefano Guidi/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The Stopping Grinch Bots Act, also introduced in the House of Representatives, would introduce additional security measures on retail sites in a bid to ban bots. As seen with other companies like Telfar, however, the move may only make it harder for real people to purchase products.

With the holiday season already upon us — and Congress struggling to avoid a federal government shutdown — it may already be too late to get rid of the reselling Grinches. Bots will continue to plague business well after the holidays, though, meaning the legislation could be passed later in 2022.

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