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How Taylor Swift became an unlikely hero in the fight against click bots

Written by Stewart Boutcher, Veracity Trust Network 

Having sold more than 200 million records globally, and with 12 Grammy Awards to her name, Taylor Swift stands as one of the most successful and celebrated pop stars of the 21st century – if not of all time. While her list of achievements is already extensive to say the least, the U.S. singer-songwriter recently gained a new – and rather unexpected – string to her bow: she became one of the world’s most influential cybersecurity champions.

 

Look what they made her do

In order to explain how this came to be, I need to rewind to November 2022, when tickets for the U.S. leg of Swift’s Eras Tour went on sale to fans via Ticketmaster. Within an hour of tickets going on sale, the Ticketmaster website crashed, while thousands of ‘Swifties’ reported that the presale access codes they’d been given hadn’t worked properly, causing many to miss out. Taking to social media shortly afterwards, Swift blamed Ticketmaster for the debacle, pointing out that there were a ‘multitude of reasons why people had such a hard time’ getting tickets, and vowed to ‘figure out how this situation [could] be improved moving forward’.

In the wake of Swift and her legion of fans’ calls for answers, the U.S. Senate summoned executives from Ticketmaster’s parent company, Live Nation, to explain what had happened. During the hearing, Live Nation blamed the disastrous sale on the unprecedented demand and ‘staggering number of bot attacks’ made against its website at the time. These came despite the use of Ticketmaster’s ‘Verified Fan’ scheme, which requires customers to pre-register their interest, enabling the vendor to confirm that they are genuine fans. While executives confirmed that ‘the bots failed to penetrate [its] systems or acquire any tickets’, they explained that ‘the attack required [them] to slow down and even pause [their] sales’. When Republican senator Marsha Blackburn asked why Live Nation hadn’t developed an algorithm to differentiate between bots and consumers, the company’s CEO, Joe Berchtold, replied that ‘it is absolutely an ever-growing arms race in terms of fighting the bots’.

 

Swifter action is needed

He’s certainly not wrong. Indeed, this is far from the first time that we’ve seen bots disrupt large event sales on this scale. For example, when Liverpool hosted the Eurovision Song Contest on behalf of Ukraine earlier this year, thousands of people looking to purchase tickets through Ticketmaster fell victim to bots. These allowed scalpers to secure a vast number of tickets, which they went onto sell to desperate fans at exorbitant prices – as much as £11,000, in some cases.

It’s clear that bots present a significant threat to the live entertainment industry and many others besides. As such, Live Nation are right to highlight the extent of the problem, but that’s not to suggest that more couldn’t have been done to address the issue. After all, the firm’s executives confirmed to the Senate that they knew there’d be bot interference but had underestimated the level of disruption it would cause. However, some have suggested that, because Ticketmaster holds such a monopoly over the industry, the company simply doesn’t need to try very hard to tackle bots. With the money continuing to flow, perhaps it’s easier and more cost effective for Ticketmaster to not take action against bots?

 

Fortunately, Taylor Swift and her fans are helping to bring proper scrutiny to companies like Ticketmaster and their responsibility to ensure that customers are properly protected from bots. In time, this might help enact widespread change that compels firms to take more decisive action to combat the issue. Until then, however, the ‘bad blood’ between fans and ticket vendors that bots help perpetuate is likely to deepen ever further.

 

About the author

Stewart Boutcher is Chief Technology Officer & Data Lead at Veracity Trust Network