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Yours truly, Bot Buddy

When they’re programmed to do good, they help us do the seemingly impossible.

Brian X. Chen   |   Published 13.09.21, 04:11 AM

Bots have a bad rep. These automated computer programs have been used to spread conspiracy theories, spew vitriol and scam people. But when they’re programmed to do good, they help us do the seemingly impossible.

Take buying a PlayStation 5. Since the Sony console was released last November, it has been hard to find, partly because a global chip shortage has slowed down manufacturing of all kinds of tech products. When the new PS appears on sites like Amazon, it sells out in minutes. 

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“It’s really difficult to get one without any bots,” said S.V. Yesvanth, an information security engineer who wrote a web script to automatically scan online stores for available consoles after his own struggles to buy one in Hyderabad, India. After he succeeded, he connected his bot to a Twitter account.

Bots can be your friend...

Dozens of bots publish posts on Twitter whenever a retailer refreshes its inventory. They search an online store’s web code for a signal — like an “add to cart” button — indicating the PlayStation is back in stock. As soon as they detect the console is available, they post an alert.

— @PS5StockAlerts tweets when consoles are available at Best Buy, Sam’s Club and Walmart.

— @mattswider is curated by Matt Swider, editor-in-chief of the blog TechRadar. Swider gets a heads-up from sources at big-box retailers and independent stores.

— @ps5_india, run by Yesvanth, is focused on obtaining a PS in India.

— @iloveps_5,  hosted by Kevin Hirczy, a software developer in Austria, focuses on PS availability in Europe.

Most bots must be avoided

Avoid Twitter accounts offering to sell you a PlayStation 5 directly. Once they receive your payment, you probably won’t hear from them again.

Some scammers use account names that closely resemble those of legitimate ones. Follow only those that post links to trusted retailers.

Other bots to avoid are the automatic checkout tools, like browser add-ons that refresh websites and try to order the PlayStation for you.

There are hidden tricks

Tilt the odds in your favour:

• On retail sites such as GameStop and Best Buy, create a membership account and fill out your mailing address and credit card information ahead of time. This will speed up checkout.

• In rare cases, PS orders have failed in the middle of a credit card transaction. On some store sites, you can buy gift credit for yourself, which allows you to skip the credit card verification process.

• Some online stores have quirks. On Best Buy, for example, don’t refresh the website after clicking “add to cart” —  you could lose your PlayStation. Swider streams live YouTube videos walking people through the different checkout processes; Yesvanth and Hirczy host group chats on Discord where people discuss what’s working for them. In an era when frantic shoppers compete even for hand sanitiser and toilet paper, bots may lead the path to victory.

NYTNS



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