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Bots behind disastrous Taylor Swift Ticketmaster sales incident

Video games, defence, education … cyber security covers them all. And now we can add Taylor Swift to the list of all things cyber, as ticket seller Live Nation blames aggressive bots for a recent ticketing disaster.

user icon David Hollingworth
Wed, 25 Jan 2023
Bots behind disastrous Taylor Swift Ticketmaster sales incident
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While addressing a United States Senate Judiciary Committee.

If you’re wondering how all things came to converge, firstly, no, the US Senate is not outing itself as a rabid Taylor Swift fan, but was rather addressing whether or not Live Nation’s 2010 merger with ticketing giant Ticketmaster was leading to issues of competition and monopoly in the market.

By way of background, during ticket sales for a range of Taylor Swift concerts in November, Live Nation’s infrastructure could not keep up with demand, with many fans losing out.

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The inability to plan for the event, combined with Live Nation's dominance of ticket sales, is what sparked the committee’s inquiries.

Which is why the bot attacks during ticket sales are so important. It’s not monopolistic incompetence that’s the issue — it’s out of control ticket-buying bots, according to Joe Berchtold , Live Nation’s president and chief financial officer.

The bot attacks do appear to have been a major factor. Not only was there an unprecedented number of bots just trying to acquire tickets which Live Nation had planned for but there was some more malicious action going on as well.

“There was unprecedented demand for Taylor Swift tickets,” Berchtold said to the committee. “We knew bots would attack that on sale and planned accordingly. We were then hit with three times the amount of bot traffic than we had ever experienced, and for the first time in 400 Verified Fan on sales they came after our Verified Fan access code servers. While the bots failed to penetrate our systems or acquire any tickets, the attack required us to slow down and even pause our sales.

“This is what led to a terrible consumer experience that we deeply regret. As we said after the on sale,” Berchtold added, “and I reiterate today, we apologise to the many disappointed fans as well as to Ms Swift.”

We have no more details of the bot attacks at this time but have reached out to Live Nation for comment.

Surprisingly, anger at the incident has united Republicans and Democrats, with one senator congratulating Berchtold for causing the cooperation. Neither side believes the bots are much of a defence of Live Nation’s operational failure.

“The way your company handled the ticket sales with Ms Swift was a debacle,” said Republican Louisiana Senator John Kennedy. “If you care about the consumer, cap the price, cut out the bots, cut out the middle people.

“This is all the definition of monopoly because Live Nation is so powerful that it doesn’t even need to exert pressure,” said Democratic Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar in her opening address to the committee. “It doesn’t need to threaten, because people just fall in line.”

Live Nation holds over 70 per cent of ticket sales market in the United States.

David Hollingworth

David Hollingworth

David Hollingworth has been writing about technology for over 20 years, and has worked for a range of print and online titles in his career. He is enjoying getting to grips with cyber security, especially when it lets him talk about Lego.

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