Assoc Prof Jamus Jerome Lim asked the Prime Minister (a) whether the Government tracks the prevalence of abuse of Government-linked online reservation systems, such as for SportSG facilities, where slots are subsequently resold; and (b) if so, what is the frequency of such abuses.
Assoc Prof Jamus Jerome Lim asked the Prime Minister whether the Ministry has evaluated the efficacy of its safeguards, such as anti-bot solutions, limiting multiple logins within the day, and blacklisting and suspending accounts, currently in place to prevent bots and other automated reservation tools rapidly taking up all available slots for Government-linked online reservation systems.
Mrs Josephine Teo (for the Prime Minister): The Government is aware that automated bots may be 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. The Government, therefore, pays close attention to instances of abuse and takes prompt actions to stop them. For example, since early 2021, SportSG has stepped up its on-site enforcement measures. A person who books a slot must be present and be part of the playing party or risk the booking being cancelled. In addition, SportSG conducts periodic checks on suspicious booking patterns in the ActiveSG system and on-selling activities across various social media platforms. If suspicious booking patterns are found, the accounts will be suspended for a period of three months for the first time and 12 months for repeat violations. Since 2021, more than 600 bookings have been cancelled for on-selling activities and about 200 ActiveSG accounts have been suspended for suspected bot usage.
Government agencies have also put in place technical measures, such as the use of Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart (CAPTCHA), introduction of delays between login attempts, and web application firewalls with bot control features, to detect and prevent automated bots from launching actions on websites. 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. The Government must strike a balance between introducing frictions to protect against abuse by some, and usability for the vast majority.
Prime Minister’s Office
21 March 2023