Hong Kong steps up battle against bots in crackdown on concert ticket touts buying in bulk online

  • Government IT experts have been helping Leisure and Cultural Services Department tackle buyers who use computer programs to beat competing users on online ticketing platforms
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 December, 2018, 9:32pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 December, 2018, 11:10pm

Hong Kong officials have further stepped up their fight against scalping by deploying IT experts to help fend off touts who use computer programs to buy up large numbers of concert tickets online, the city’s technology minister revealed on Saturday.

Secretary for Innovation and Technology Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung said IT officials had helped the Leisure and Cultural Services Department tackle bulk buyers who use so-called bots to beat competing users on the government’s online platforms.

The department operates a ticketing system for concerts held at government venues. It has threatened to criminalise scalping for events at these facilities.

Officials are also mulling introducing “personalised ticketing” in which purchases would require a customer’s real name, and their identity to be verified at the venue.

The government has been under pressure to address rampant scalping for tickets to pop music shows, which are often resold for up to 25 times their original price. Fans have queued for days in advance at box offices only to be told tickets have sold out online.

Government mulls plan to crack down on ticket touting, which would outlaw the practice at two publicly owned concert venues

In August box office sales for singer Andy Lau Tak-wah’s concerts had to be suspended due to a knife attack in the queues for counters. Fans were then forced to try and buy online or by phone but there was an outcry after bots bought up all the tickets from the website.

These programs refresh a user’s connection constantly at times of high traffic and can fill in personal and credit card information automatically to speed up the purchasing process.

Yang told a radio programme on Saturday that the government’s IT department had offered assistance to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department on a number of occasions.

“We have done that a few times and the effect was OK, though we could do better for sure,” Yang said. “We blocked some attacks.”

He hoped a new initiative called the Smart Government Innovation Lab would help officials improve online public service platforms.

The lab, set to launch in April, will invite industry players to submit proposals for improvements, with the results expected six months later.

Action needed now against Hong Kong ticket touts

“Local small and medium-sized enterprises and start-ups can introduce their products to the government, and the various government departments will tell the industry their needs,” Yang said.

Francis Fong Po-kiu, honorary president of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, said he was aware of the government’s latest efforts to tackle bots. He said officials had used software able to detect whether buyers were coming from the same IP address.

“If someone keeps buying 10 tickets at a time from the same address, the system will block it,” Fong said. “This is better than nothing. But online scalpers can also mobilise real people to buy up tickets.”

Fong said the new lab would be useful and would help spur and circulate ideas to improve services.