A group of Democratic lawmakers introduced the Stopping Grinch Bots Act on Monday November 29 to try and prevent bots from buying up scarce, in-demand products like PlayStation 5 consoles and the latest generation of Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics cards, and reselling them for an eye-watering markup.
Playfully referred to as 'Grinch bots', this frustrating scalping tactic is anything but fun, using computer software to buy up all available stock as soon as it becomes available, making it virtually impossible to buy tech at its official retail price, which in the run-up to Christmas will force people to either pay the ridiculously inflated prices for products like the GeForce RTX 3060 or miss out entirely.
Representative Paul Tonko, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, Senator Ben Ray Luján and Senator Richard Blumenthal introduced the bill, which aims to prevent the use of bot software that bypasses the security measures of websites, making it illegal under the Federal Trade Commission Act for automated programs to impersonate humans in order to clear a website of stock. Should scalpers and bot creators choose to ignore it, they can be sued by the FTC.
Tonko said alongside the bill announcement that “Allowing grinch bots to rig prices and squeeze consumers during the holiday season hurts American families, small business owners, product makers, and entrepreneurs. We will not allow this market manipulation to go unchecked,”
"Our Grinch Bots Act works to level the playing field and prevent scalpers from sucking hard-working 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 holiday."
Analysis: too little too late
This is great, but if we're being honest it's waaaay too late in the year to be implementing this in order to save the holiday season. The market over the last 12 months has been turbulent, so the issues of getting coveted tech and toys into the hands of everyday consumers have been a huge issue consistently through that period. Realistically, action should have been taken months ago to make a difference.
There's also the issue that bots and scalpers are far from the only thing preventing these products from being scarce. The global chip shortage has resulted in manufactures scrambling for what little silicon is available to build their products, and with chips now going into everything from cars to smart fridges, there simply isn't enough production to meet demand. To make matters worse, it's predicted that the shortage could endure into 2023.
A few weeks ago the US government rejected Intel's proposal to use a Chinese factory to manufacture silicon wafers - so the ongoing chip shortage is unlikely to end anytime soon. Supply and demand is “the most extreme” it has ever been, according to CEO of semiconductor design firm Arm, Simon Segars, who warned the chip shortage may go on beyond Christmas 2022, with the wait for some silicon sitting at 60 weeks.
“If you haven’t bought all your devices yet, you might be disappointed,” he said, speaking at Web Summit. “It has never been like this before.”
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