200 ActiveSG accounts suspended for suspected bot usage since 2021: Josephine Teo

Over 600 bookings have also been cancelled for 'on-selling activities', the minister said in a written reply

·3-min read
Creative image of a bot, person about to serve shuttlecock. (Images: Getty Images)
Teo said the government is aware of and tracking the prevalence of automated bots used to secure limited goods, slots or services on various websites. (Images: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE - About 200 ActiveSG accounts have been suspended for suspected bot usage since 2021, with over 600 bookings cancelled for "on-selling" activities.

This was revealed in a written reply on Tuesday (21 March) by Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo, in response to questions from Member of Parliament Jamus Lim.

Lim had asked about the abuse of government-linked online booking systems, the resale of reservation slots for sports facilitie,s and whether safeguards such as anti-bot solutions were in place.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, reports surfaced of people using bots to beat the system when slots for sports facilities were limited.

Others had to resort to buying slots from resellers on third party web-based platforms like Carousell and Facebook. This was in response to the surge in demand for public badminton court bookings.

A check on Carousell on Wednesday showed that multiple listings for badminton court bookings in Singapore were still available on the platform.

On-site and digital enforcement measure

In her reply, Teo said the government is aware of and tracking the prevalence of automated bots used to secure limited goods, slots or services on various websites, including government-linked online reservation systems.

"Some errant users have gone further to use these bots or encourage others to lend their accounts to them, so that they can resell the slots for profit. Such actions undermine the fairness of the booking process and crowd out legitimate users," said Teo.

According to Teo, SportsSG rolled out on-site enforcement measures since early 2021, with the requirement that a person who books a slot must be present and be part of the playing party.

Those who don't comply risked having the booking be cancelled.

She added that SportSG conducts periodic checks on "suspicious booking patterns in the ActiveSG system" and "on-selling activities across various social media platforms".

Accounts with suspicious booking patterns will be suspended for a period of three months for the first time and 12 months for repeat violations.

New counter measures could come at a cost to user experience

Teo also added that while technical measures have been put in place by government agencies to combat bots and other automated reservation tools, technology would also evolve and require new counter measures.

Currently, these include measures such as CAPTCHA and the introduction of delays between login attempts to prevent bots from rapidly taking up all available slots for Government-linked online reservation systems.

Web application firewalls with bot control features have also been implemented to detect and prevent automated bots from launching actions on websites, Teo said.

"As technology evolves, bots will become more sophisticated and require newer counter measures. These may come at a cost to user experience, including to persons with disabilities or who have intermittent access to the internet," said Teo.

"The government must strike a balance between introducing frictions to protect against abuse by some, and usability for the vast majority."

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