Several Democratic members of Congress have announced the "Stopping Grinch Bots Act," a new proposal that would aim to prevent the use of bots to buy up consumer items — including PlayStation 5s, Xbox Series X|Ss, graphics cards and so on.
Representative Paul Tonko and Senators Richard Blumenthal, Ben Ray Luján and Charles E. Schumer introduced the bill Monday, framing it as a way to protect families buying gifts from the whims of scalpers, who would buy up stock of popular toys and other items only to resell it at inflated prices.
"At a time when families should be able to spend time with their loved ones, digital 'Grinch bots' are forcing Americans to scour online sites in the hopes of finding an affordable gift or paying exorbitant prices for a single toy," said Tonko.
"These bots don’t just squeeze consumers, they pose a problem for small businesses, local retailers and other entrepreneurs trying to ensure they have the best items in stock for their customers. Our Grinch Bots Act works to level the playing field and prevent scalpers from sucking hardworking parents dry this holiday season. I urge my colleagues to join me in passing this legislation immediately to stop these Grinch bots from stealing the holidays."
Democrats introduced this same bill in 2019, when it failed to gain traction. As bot usage among scalpers has only grown, the bill's sponsors hope things will go differently this time.
Consumer groups such as Consumer Reports, the Consumer Federation of America and the National Consumer League have thrown their support behind the bill, which would be in effect year-round despite the Christmas-centric framing.
If enacted, the Stopping Grinch Bots Act would build on the 2016 Better online Ticket Sales Act, which cracked down on bots used for ticketing at concerts and sporting events. It would "apply the mechanism of the BOTS Act to e-commerce sites to ban bots bypassing security measures on online retail sites."
This legislation would require the cooperation of any retailers who hoped to curtail bot usage, making them apply changes to their sites and sales policies that would be inconvenient for them without much incentive to do so beyond altruism. Additionally, the bill would not address shortages that have plagued console manufacturers, so supply would remain constrained.