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Government Technology

Congress Joins Battle Against Ticket Bots (csoonline.com) 150

itwbennett writes: A pair of companion bills now pending in the House and Senate would define the use of bots to buy tickets as an 'unfair and deceptive practice' under the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act. It would also become a federal crime, and create a right of action so that private parties can sue in federal court to recover damages. But if a similar law in Tennessee is any example, making the practice illegal doesn't make it any easier to find the people responsible for the bots. The Tennessean reported a year ago that, 'despite the apparent prevalence of the practice, no one has been prosecuted for this hard-to-prove crime in Davidson County.' This may be just another example of members of Congress not understanding the problem, but some experts say that making the bots illegal is at least a start. 'It helps to shine a light on a problem,' says Rami Essaid, cofounder and CEO of Distil Networks.
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Congress Joins Battle Against Ticket Bots

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  • They aren't bot's posting to Slashdot!

    But, I see this as another example of laws trying to chase technology.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Here I was thinking congress was going to outlaw photo-radar, red-light cameras and the pending use of drones to spy on citizens in order to more 'efficiently' write them tickets.

    Silly me!

    • Where's the NSA when you really need them?

      Tracking ticket bots should be their highest priority!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 06, 2015 @05:14PM (#51068925)

    You see, if buying the tickets with bots is illegal, it would now be lawful to do something nasty like turn away bot-purchased tickets at the door. You might not be able to identify them it time to block the transaction but if you can reasonably identify them you can stomp them later. Even if you have a relatively low detection rate the blowback might be nasty against the re-sellers. Of course you'll take your own blowback too.

    Legal precedent: possession of stolen property is a crime

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I don't understand why this is a problem for the ticket seller. Once the money for the tickets changes hands, who cares after that? Plus, what's wrong with reselling tickets? Right of first sale is something we see getting stomped on pretty darn often.

      I see the same thing happening at RV parks and hotels when a popular event comes to town. As soon as it is available, all spaces at the RV park get purchased.

      If ticket sellers want to do something, just raise prices. There will be a price point where the

      • Because they obviously could have charged more. That money could've been mine, dammit!

      • by quetwo ( 1203948 )

        What ends up happening is that if 3/4 the tickets are taken up by bots, and they only sell 1/2 their tickets you still have a venue that looks empty. Concessions are down, and the talent complains because the seats aren't filled.

        • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday December 06, 2015 @08:15PM (#51069805)

          The solution is a reverse auction. You set a high initial price, say, 30 days before the event. Some people will pay that price, because they want to be sure to get a seat. Then you lower the price by a few percent each day. If sales are lagging, you lower the price faster. If sales are ahead of predictions, you lower the price more slowly. Frugal people may wait, to get a lower price, but then they run the risk of getting nothing. You end up with no empty seats (unless people are unwilling to attend at any price), everyone pays what they think it is worth, and, since there is no margin for scalpers, all the money goes to support the venue and the performers.

          Or we could just pass a law, raise taxes, and hire more police.

      • Not all vendors want to be rapacious capitalists. Maximizing revenue is not always the single unitary objective, especially when it comes to artists. Many bands honestly want their die hard fans to come and enjoy the show at a fair price. By only charging $50 when they could have charged $200 and still sold out they know that some of their younger or at least less wealthy fans will be able to have a chance to come see. Bots negate this and put the rapacious capitalism back into place.

        I would prefer to s

        • Because I'm fine with the capitalist system, I'm for holding 'dutch auctions'. IE a section of seating is sold by people putting in what they're *willing* to pay, then the system sells that lot of seats for the lowest winning bid price (IE if there's 1k bids on 100 seats, the 100th highest bidder sets the price over the 101st, and the #1 bidder is probably not paying anything near what he bid). Keep about 10% of the seats back to catch late-comers, as you hand out tickets early enough to make travel plans

          • It also leaves little room for large groups like families to buy a lot of tickets early at a sane price. I say let the free market decide. If scalpers are buying up all the tickets, it was priced too low, and if the scalpers couldn't sell all the tickets, then frankly the show wouldn't have sold them either, and did sell more because of the scalpers, so the venue has little to complain about.

            • Are you talking about my proposal, or the current situation?

              Under my proposal, if you want 14 connected seats, pick a big enough seating area and put your bid in. Either you get all 14 seats or you get none, but at least you know that everybody that got seats paid more than you.

              The case situation where the lowest winning bidder wanted 14 seats when only 10 were available can be handled by flexing the 10% 'held for a later time' margin a bit. Either you increase it and the people wanting to buy the seats

          • by Jiro ( 131519 )

            That's not necessarily a capitalist system. The ticket is permission from the property owner to enter. The property owner can give permission anyone he chooses since after all it is his property.

            Selling the ticket is only capitalism to the extent that it doesn't force anything on the property owner. In other words, selling the ticket is itself capitalist, but using the ticket as a credential is not--if you buy a ticket and use it as a credential, the property owner doesn't need to let you in. The owner c

        • By only charging $50 when they could have charged $200 and still sold out they know that some of their younger or at least less wealthy fans will be able to have a chance to come see. Bots negate this and put the rapacious capitalism back into place

          Exactly. The people doing this are the ones ruining it for everyone else.

          What the bots (read: the people running the bots) do is not much different than a schoolyard bully elbowing his way into the lunch line ahead of you to grab the last couple of desserts that you wanted, and then offering to sell them to you at an inflated price.

          Is it legal? Mmmmmm...maybe. Possibly. The fact is that I'm not really sure whether or not it's legal...but I know it's wrong in the greater scheme of things.

          • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Sunday December 06, 2015 @10:04PM (#51070277)

            What the bots (read: the people running the bots) do is not much different than a schoolyard bully elbowing his way into the lunch line ahead of you to grab the last couple of desserts that you wanted, and then offering to sell them to you at an inflated price.

            I disagree, that's a bad analogy. It's more like the schoolyard bully getting to the line before you (without any elbowing or bad behavior at all, but maybe he can run faster), grabbing up all the desserts, and selling them to you at an inflated price. You should have gotten to the line faster.

            The only argument I've found against this practice that really holds water is the idea that the performers want to keep tickets affordable so all their fans have a fair chance to attend, instead of jacking up the prices so only the wealthy fans can.

            • by JustAnotherOldGuy ( 4145623 ) on Sunday December 06, 2015 @10:49PM (#51070519)

              I disagree, that's a bad analogy. It's more like the schoolyard bully getting to the line before you (without any elbowing or bad behavior at all, but maybe he can run faster), grabbing up all the desserts, and selling them to you at an inflated price. You should have gotten to the line faster.

              But that's just it...you can be in line before them, and their massive, tidal-wave hammering of the site with their botnet means you still lose out.

              Saying, "You should have gotten to the line faster" is like saying "You should have bought those tickets before anyone else could", or possibly, "You should have run your own botnet to make sure you had a fighting chance."

    • a ticket lottery fixes a lot of issues for high demand evens and cuts down on ticket scalping.

      One issues with a rush to buy is when you have 2-3 people buying tickets for one person as you can end up with one person being the intended user getting 2-3 tickets under there name that can be some events must be under each persons name or at other events max X people under one name.

      Let's say someone thinks they may not be able to make the time so they ask some to or even some try's to gift one with out telling t

  • by BitterOak ( 537666 ) on Sunday December 06, 2015 @05:22PM (#51068959)
    Why can't it be up to individual ticket sellers to set their own policies/terms of service? Why does the law need to get involved? What if I want to sell tickets to bots? Am I not allowed to?
    • by bondsbw ( 888959 )

      Even if it's based on the policies of the seller, there is opportunity for law enforcement or the courts to get involved in order to protect the conditions of that particular sale. (If those conditions aren't enforced or cannot be, then they really don't exist.)

      But a blanket law? I'm with you, there's really not a need and this is really little different from any case where the seller is providing a limited number of goods/services for a cost that is lower than supply/demand would dictate.

      Which makes me a

      • by mlts ( 1038732 )

        The idea of a reverse auction is probably the best suggestion on how to cure the problem to date. Start out with prices 100 times as much as normal, and after a time have the ticket prices drop. The site could even allow people to place a bid and if the tickets are sold out for that area or tow, it would automatically purchase them for the buyer once the price dropped to what was asked.

        Whenever there are calls for legislation, this can become a very bad thing pretty quickly, if the problem cannot be solve

        • by schnell ( 163007 )

          The idea of a reverse auction is probably the best suggestion on how to cure the problem to date. Start out with prices 100 times as much as normal, and after a time have the ticket prices drop. The site could even allow people to place a bid and if the tickets are sold out for that area or tow, it would automatically purchase them for the buyer once the price dropped to what was asked.

          On one hand, as a business person, I agree with you 100%. This is absolutely the most rational way to squeeze scalpers out of the market and maximize profit for the musician/event/whatever performer. If these people were economically rational, this unquestionably should be how all tickets are sold.

          On the other hand, I think we are generally pretty aware that rock musicians et. al. are remarkably stupid when it comes to money. I had always wondered why these people were clearly cheating themselves out of pro

          • Most rock musicians apparently hate the idea that only rich fans will be able to go to their concerts - which would likely be the result in a reverse-auction scenario. Instead, they prefer to keep ticket prices low in a (possibly naive?) attempt to ensure that their concert tickets are accessible to all their fans.

            And there's nothing wrong with that, but if they really wanted to beat the "scalpers" and ensure that their tickets go to the "right" people, they should require photo ID to use the tickets, and make them non-transferable. That wouldn't technically prevent bots from buying tickets, but it would make the tickets useless to them, since a ticket originally issued to John Q. Bot couldn't be used by anyone else.

            If someone has a schedule conflict or changes their mind about attending, they can just cancel their t

        • What if you happen to have the disposable income to buy a ticket at the full price, but your best friend does not and you both wish to sit together?

          You either will have to subsidize your friend and eat the difference yourself or wait until the tickets reach a price that both you and your friend can both afford.

          Now, how likely do you think it would be that both people just choose not to attend the show based on the negative feelings of unfairness over the situation? I think it is a non zero percent chance...

      • Because then large groups like families could never afford to get tickets together early. That's not better.

        • by bondsbw ( 888959 )

          I don't see how that's any worse though. In this system the venue sells the tickets to whoever pays the most. Bots buy all the tickets and sell them to whoever pays the most. The only difference is who gets those profits, the venue or the bots.

          But this system could be improved even more than bots. If the venue feels it is important to make it accessible to groups, they can prioritize group seating, e.g. every other row is reserved for groups larger than X. Those rows may discount faster because they pr

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      If you really wanted the sale to happen, you'd just sell a big block of tickets to the owner of the bot in a single transaction rather than having them beat up your server and pay extra costs for thousands of credit card transactions.

      • This might indeed be what's happening. Don't forget that Ticketmaster, the biggest online seller of tickets, also owns the biggest scalping site.

        Who's to say that they don't just sell large numbers of tickets directly to their subsidiary company?

        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          It wouldn't surprise me at all.

        • Remember, a big part of Ticketmaster's business model has always been acting as the designated "bad guy," to let talent pretend that they're all about the fans, it's those nasty Ticketmaster people who are screwing them over. For example, the vast majority of the "fees" that Ticketmaster imposes are actually paid right back to the band. It lets the band pretend that "we're only charging $50 for your ticket, it's Ticketmaster that's adding that extra $20."

    • I haven't worked out the math, but this would be my scenario. Pretend people like to go to events at big full venues (this is how I enjoy sports events, sold out). Then the profit maximizing ticket sales will not fill the stadium because further restricting supply at a higher price will increase profit. So the scalper can come in, buy all the tickets, and then sell the profit maximizing price and quantity. The only problem is that the owner wanted to make a little less money per game/show and make it a good

  • Wait a Minute (Score:5, Interesting)

    by freeze128 ( 544774 ) on Sunday December 06, 2015 @05:28PM (#51069001)
    It's a short hop from outlawing ticked-buying bots to also outlawing automated stock-trading software. This might be just the thing that the ordinary man needs to take back control of the economy.
    • More like a giant chasm. Stocks are meant to be resold and traded. Tickets are usually sold with the explicit condition that they cannot be resold.
      • Which is bull. Doctrine of First Sale. Name any other tangible item you can do that with. You can't! They even tried it with books, but doctrine of first sale prevails.

        • The first sale doctrine applies to copyright law - and it does indeed mean that a ticket, as a physical object, can be resold. But that doesn't mean it must continue to be a valid ticket: If the ticket is resold then the venue operator is free to consider it invalidated and deny entry. With paper tickets it is just difficult for them to establish at the time if it has been re-sold.

          All this could be effectively solved were the physical paper tokens simply replaced with, say, a phone app that tracks tickets a

  • Illegal? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DogDude ( 805747 ) on Sunday December 06, 2015 @05:32PM (#51069013) Homepage
    Why should it be illegal? Why should I care about this? If something is too expensive because the ticket face price is too much, or the reseller's price is too high, I don't go. I don't see what the problem is.
    • Re:Illegal? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 06, 2015 @05:46PM (#51069069)

      That's pretty much the point right there.

      The real problem with ticket scalpers is the population itself.

      You want scalpers to go away? Here's what you do. Do NOT purchase tickets from anywhere but the original seller. Ever.

      If EVERYONE did this, then scalpers would fucking panic extremely fast as they end up with tickets they can't sell that they spent a lot of money on. If they do that a couple of times, they'll be freaking bankrupt. It's not like they can return the tickets. (And if they can, the ticket issuer should fix that.)

      Sure, it might make for some pitiful audiences at a few shows, but so long as the performers know the house was sold out, they're still getting paid and they'll understand why it's like that. (At which point they encourage everyone to move closer for a cool show!)

      You don't need a legal solution, as the parent says. You ALSO don't need a technical solution. All you need is a fucking social solution. And it WILL work, so long as everyone (or the VAST majority) play along.

      • by DogDude ( 805747 )
        I personally don't give a shit who I buy it from. If somebody has it at a price I'm willing to pay, I'll buy it. I don't see what the problem is in the first place. Scalpers aren't doing anything wrong, as far as I can tell.
        • I personally don't give a shit who I buy it from. If somebody has it at a price I'm willing to pay, I'll buy it. I don't see what the problem is in the first place. Scalpers aren't doing anything wrong, as far as I can tell.

          I agree, even though I find them annoying, Scalpers are just a market force. If there's a problem here, it's capitalism. If people don't like capitalism and the free market, they should just admit that. But that's what scalping is — it's a product, you sold the product, and now someone else is reselling it as is their right. Adding some bullshit T&C to the product is no substitute for due diligence, and if you want control over sales you're going to have to reintroduce a human element rather than

      • This just doesn't apply to tickets but to other commodities as well as we've learned in the US like what is going on with 22 LR; people keep buying from scalpers because they can't find any ammo at stores because all the scalpers bought it all out (often using sly tactics to get around purchase limits) driving up demand. If people would stop giving into scalpers then the supply and demand would equalize.

        • Ammunition arbitrage. If scalpers can turn a profit in that manner, then the ammunition is under-priced compared to what the market will bear.

          It's not possible to drive up demand artificially to raise prices in the long term. It can work briefly, but it requires buying a lot more bullets than you can hope to sell at your higher price, and soon the ammo stores realise that they are constantly sold out and either start to stock more or charge more, either of which means the scalper needs to spend ever-increas

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Why should it be illegal? Why should I care about this? If something is too expensive because the ticket face price is too much, or the reseller's price is too high, I don't go. I don't see what the problem is.

      Exactly. The value of the ticket is determined by what someone is willing to pay. The real losers are the performers (and the venue) who are leaving money on the table. Raise the ticket prices to the point where supply and demand balance and scalping will no longer be reliably profitable and the problem goes back to the occasional person in the parking lot looking to sell/buy a spare ticket or two. Yes, that will price some out of the live experience, but then that is already happening, but currently al

    • by Rinikusu ( 28164 )

      As a musician, I see a bunch of problems. If I have fans who can't come see my band because scalpers have driven the price of tickets so high that my fans can't come see my band, then that sucks for both me and my band, and the fan. The first because there's a good chance we (the band) set the initial price to make coming to our shows affordable for everyone and someone subverting that process in the name of MY MONEY MY PROFIT is a fucking asshole (because we could certainly work with the venue to jack up

  • Reverse Auction (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Macdude ( 23507 ) on Sunday December 06, 2015 @05:39PM (#51069039)

    All the ticket sellers have to do is use reverse auction style ticket pricing. Start with (very) high prices when the tickets initially go on sale then drop the price on a day-by-day basis as the event gets closer.

    That way there is no practical way to buy low sell high.

    • They'd make more money over all for each event too. Surprising they don't already do this.
    • That way there is no practical way to buy low sell high.

      Isn't there?

      Don't scalpers make their money because they still have tickets to sell once the event is (directly) sold out? No-one buys from a scalper when there are still tickets available direct.

      If I buy 100 tickets at first-day prices under your scheme, what's to stop me still charging more than I paid for them to the people who've missed out now all the other tickets have been sold?

      • by suutar ( 1860506 )

        Well, you have to make a profit. That means you have to sell higher than first-day prices. Unless they sold out at first day prices, then anyone who hasn't bought by the time the event sells out either just didn't know it was going on or wasn't willing to pay first-day prices. And the ones who weren't willing to pay first-day are unlikely to be willing to pay your prices which are higher, so your market is pretty much the folks who didn't know it was going on until it was already sold out.

        Now, if they do se

      • If I buy 100 tickets at first-day prices under your scheme, what's to stop me still charging more than I paid for them to the people who've missed out now all the other tickets have been sold?

        The fact that 99.999999% of potential attendees can't afford the tickets in the first place, much less your profit margin added on top?

        Now, you buying on the 3rd day when prices have dropped to, say, 25% of their original value, and you existing to sell tickets to people who decide to attend late, that makes sense.

        Which is why I prefer the 'dutch auction' approach for classes of seats. You put in a bid, perhaps a couple of 'fail over' bids where you're willing to pay more for better seats, but if not, here

    • You and the post below asking why this should be illegal are misunderstanding the problem. From TFA:

      This past August, tickets with a face price of $129 to a Billy Joel concert at the Nassau Coliseum sold out in five minutes, and then reappeared on resale sites where they were priced from $400 to as much as $8,000.

      The problem is the performer is deliberately under-pricing the tickets below market value, so that ordinary fans can afford them. When you do that, demand far outstrips supply and the tickets se

      • also the require you to show your ID at the event, and the ID has to match the person who bought the ticket with a limited transfer. Can lead to scalpers left holding the ball and the event goes empty Or just have people who end up with say a lot of tickets just so they don't get locked out so they have like 3-5 systems botted just in the hopes of getting it and they plan to sell the others to recoup the costs.

        Giving a full refund to overbuying does not really fix the issue.

        Getting rid of the buy rush does

      • by ranton ( 36917 )

        If it fails, the performers and venues can still pull the nuclear option - require you to show your ID at the event, and the ID has to match the person who bought the ticket.

        This problem is much easier to solve than this. Just make people sign up at the venue days before the tickets go on sale, and then use a lottery to pick who gets tickets. Then you can give some tickets to people who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford them, scalpers have very little chance to buy tickets in bulk, and buyers can still sell their tickets if they can't go.

        • It's actually even easier than that. Just reserve some fraction of the tickets to sell at the door. It works for Apple...

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      I think the standard economics argument has always been that tickets are priced too low. People are clearly able and willing to pay much more than the face value for tickets.

      I would think that a reverse auction could implemented with a demand-driven pricing curve, starting out expensive and then dropping the price automatically as demand dropped.

      The question is -- why hasn't this been widely implemented already? Given that there are actual businesses that exist solely to resell tickets and that the venues

      • by Jiro ( 131519 )

        The question is -- why hasn't this been widely implemented already?

        Because groups that sell tickets to their performances aren't profit-maximizing capitalists. They don't want to maximize the profit at the cost of everything else.

        • by swb ( 14022 )

          The problem (at least with concerts) is they'd be better off being profit-maximizing capitalists.

          Sure, they say they want to keep tickets affordable for fans, but they end up with an inflexible pricing model that keeps fans from being able to buy tickets because resellers flood ticketing systems with bots and then resell the tickets for prices high enough to make their own profit.

          If they used another pricing model, artists would be able to deter the arbitrage on face price versus market price, making more p

    • Or they could require an ID and tie the ticket to a person's name at purchase time.
      Then maybe do a more relaxed automated refund system for people who can't make it (and add that seat back to the pool.)

      It definitely seems like a legal (non-)solution to a technical problem. Ticketmaster could also just use a better CAPTCHA...
      Sure, there are people in poor countries who could be (are?) paid to solve CAPTCHAs but that's not what a law that outlaws bots covers, is it?

    • so who is going to be dumb enough to buy tickets the day they go on sale? and being that music is a business, musicians want their tickets sold out as fast as possible to reduce the risks of putting on a concert
      • Hardly anybody, but in reality rich rabid fans of the act. But yes, one problem I see with the system is that it would create a sort of mad rush breaking unpredictably as once people start buying, 'everybody' who was holding off rushes in.

        Personally, I think something like a month-long dutch auction would work better - log in anytime during the month, put in your bid - X Seats @Y each. At the end of the month, all the high bidders get their seats at the price bid by the lowest winner, or sometimes $1 over

  • I don't think bots are the issue, eliminate the sites which allow scalpers to sell for more than face value. Unless something has changed Ticketmaster famously operated one and would redirect unsuspecting buyers to it.
  • And this exchange from, "Raising Gazorpazorp" (Season 1, Episode 7):

    Rick: "Well obviously Summer, it appears the lower tier of this society is being manipulated through sex and advanced technology by a hidden ruling class. Sound familiar?"

    Summer: (*gasps*) "Ticketmaster."

  • There are three problems here all working at once:
    1. it's legal (marginally)
    2. its very profitable
    3. it's difficult to catch
    4. although the public hates it, most of them continue to facillitate it anyway

    You won't see any serious progress until you scratch off at least two items off that list. Honestly, #4 isn't likely to go away ever simply because as another poster roughly put it, there are enough stupid or fanatical people out there to keep them in business even if you try to "vote with your wallet". It

  • I mean, it's really a shame about gun-related deaths, traffic deaths that outnumber even those, crumbling infrastructure that makes us look closer to third-world every day, and higher infant mortality numbers than seen anywhere else in the western world, but at least they've taken a firm hand on ticket scalpers. It's like the f-ing cavalry showing up in the nick of time to save us. Thanks, really! Signed, America
  • tickle bots...

    as for the ticket bots... I don't really care, and a federal law is going a little far... let the companies figure out how to stop it if they really want to. Have you seen the crazy fees ticketmaster charges? I would rather something be done about that if anything.

  • At the time of booking you need to declare the name of the purchaser. And show ID at the time of usage. Indian Railways uses such a system. (Only one member of the party who booked the tickets has to show the id.)
  • That problem seems easy to fix: make prices decreasing exponentially in time. That way there is no profit to be made by being the first buyer.
  • When anyone, flesh or otherwise, buys up large numbers of event tickets in hopes of reselling at a profit, he is second-guessing the event operator. In the long run, this is a very risky way to make a living because sports and concert promoters know their business and have spent years getting good at judging what their markets will bear. If ticket resellers consistently made money on speculative purchase of tickets, rather than on resale fees and commissions, the event operators are just as consistently und

    • In the real world, this happens all the time. Spectators are willing to pay a premium for last-minute tickets. And they don't have to make a _lot_ of money, nor do they have to be consistently profitable. Much like spammers, they only have to _believe_ that they will make money. And like most spammers, and much like the original "Cyberpromo" business by Sanford Wallace, and Canter & Siegel's original spamming business, they can cause a great deal of damage to legitimate businesses before they fall.

    • If ticket resellers consistently made money on speculative purchase of tickets, rather than on resale fees and commissions, the event operators are just as consistently underpricing their events.

      In the real world, this just doesn't happen.

      That's exactly what does happen. Bands don't want to be seen as "gouging" their "real fans," so they set artificially low ticket prices, well below what people are actually willing to pay, creating an opportunity for scalpers.

  • > define the use of bots to buy tickets as an 'unfair and deceptive practice'

    If they would eliminate the purchase of _stock_ with bots, It would help stabilize our economy. High speed trading has all but eliminated the possibility of profit for small traders. Also, the extremely tight coupling of instant sale and purchase must _inevitably_ cause positive feedback loops. That is not because any one high frequency trader's algorithms lack negative feedback, but because if the phase lag between two high sp

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