Are Bots Ruining the Yosemite Reservation System?

Discussion in 'Reservation Systems' started by David Blackwell, Mar 15, 2018.

  1. David Blackwell

    David Blackwell New Member

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    Hi All - I am a new member of this site and I'm hoping other members can provide a bit of a reality check?

    I'm wondering if anyone else had the same experience as me this morning? At precisely 7:00:01 am PDT, I was logged in and had my Yosemite site reservation ready to go. The system show my targeted site was available - all system go - ready to launch. Clicked on the "book now" button at precisely the stroke of 7 am and nothing! I watched helplessly as all 459 sites in Yosemite were gone within 60 seconds. Literally, all of the sites. There's no way 459 humans could complete a single reservation in under a minute - typos alone would slow things down.

    A cursory media search revealed several articles documenting the use of computer programs (bots) to automate the reservation process. According to customer service for Recreation.gov, they are actively trying to prevent users from using bots. Clearly, Recreation.gov is losing the the bot battle.

    Feeling really disappointed - I'd love to go back to Yosemite but I do I have to sacrifice my ethics just because a large group of people are gaming the system?
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2018
  2. f5moab

    f5moab Retired from the Federal Government

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    That sucks; really.
     
  3. shuang2

    shuang2 Well-Known Member

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    DSC_5369.JPG I met the same thing last year. After 10 minutes I went back again, I got a site fortunately. Campsite at Yosemite Valley is really difficult to bet. btw: we camped there 4 nights.
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2018
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  4. gardenbliss

    gardenbliss Well-Known Member

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    I lucked out and got a site last year, but I had to enlist all my family members who were camping with me (the person who secures the site needs to be part of the camping group). We had 7 windows open, ready to book by 7am. Hit "Book Now" - full, next window "Book Now" - full - super frustrating. At the last minute, my 22 yo got an available site. It was very stressful. I hate this system, and there are so may people (worldwide) who are online trying to secure the few sites that are available.
     
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  5. neighbormike

    neighbormike Well-Known Member

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    Just curious, is this Reserve America? Or similar outfit?? I agree that this is a very frustrating game, even in a smaller, state park situation!
     
  6. David Blackwell

    David Blackwell New Member

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    Recreation.gov.

    It's my understanding that ReserveAmerica may have their own agreements with various states, for example, I believe California State Parks contracts with them. Support for the national parks is primarily managed by Recreation.gov. I had ReserveAmerica open on another screen but after the campsite availability page on Recreation.gov flipped enmass to "R" I stopped trying. (This happened less than 30 seconds after the reservation window opened.) Computers are closely related to my profession, and I know how long systems take to process data i.e. these transactions (reservations) were posted in nanoseconds not seconds.

    While it is conceivable that I am mistaken in assuming a bot invasion, a site could be marked as an "R" during the normal course of a human interaction, it still doesn't add up to me - it was all too quick and too perfect.
     
  7. tzmartin

    tzmartin Active Member

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    So is there a secondary market for campsites? Are camper people buying and downloading programs that do this? I don't understand how this works.
     
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  8. mpking

    mpking Active Member

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    ReserveAmerica has the same issue. Popular sites on the beach here in Mass are gone less than a second after the window opens.
     
  9. theseus

    theseus Centerville, OH

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    Recreation.gov is the same type of system as ReserveAmerica. In fact I would be surprised if ReserveAmerica doesn't run Recreation.gov. As for the states, I know Ohio now uses ReserveAmerica to manage their systems. However, you call in, they tell you they are Ohio DNR.
     
  10. David Blackwell

    David Blackwell New Member

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    After doing a little more digging, it's apparent that ReserveAmerica is but one company being run by Active Network, LLC (Dallas, TX). Here is Active Network's 2012 press release regarding their launch of a new website for Recreation.gov:
    http://www.activenetwork.com/blog/2012/08/active-great-outdoors-recreation-gov-site/

    I have also reviewed ReserveAmerica's Terms of Use and they specifically ban the use of bots. Whether or not they have active controls to prevent use is a question I will be posing to their customer service shortly.
     
  11. chucky

    chucky New Member

    So someone ultimately has to pay for and use these sites, or there is no motivation for botting them all up. Can anyone chat up their campsite neighbors and who they purchased through and maybe what they paid? That will help to locate the culprits.
     
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  12. nhlakes

    nhlakes Active Member

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    Happens at all highly desirable locations for peak times. I doubt it is 'bots'. I suspect it simply supply vs demand. More likely hundreds of people doing the same thing you were doing.
     
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  13. JustRelax

    JustRelax Active Member

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    When I get a site I get 15 minutes I think each step to complete the registration process. So they may not have it completed within the minute but it is unavailable if you check sites. The best thing to do is have multiple devices going on different sites. Also as stated keep checking back right after the window if you get locked out because someone may have got several sites and cancel out of the ones they don't need. I normally get on and get through and drop one occasionally (never Yosemite, locally). I have had someone beat me when I only used one device and the sites I wanted were taken once I refreshed. I kept refreshing and someone dropped one that I wanted so I snagged it. Have always got a site with the wife and I both running a couple devices each.
     
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  14. kcsa75

    kcsa75 Well-Known Member

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    Just keep checking. People cancel all the time.

    We have an area in Colorado where we like to go. I was not only looking for a particular campground but a specific site to boot. Back in February (six months in advance of the date rage I was hoping for), I started logging in every morning first thing and kept coming up empty.

    I eventually gave up but the other day I had a few minutes at work and just for grins logged in to Recreation.gov and looked at next availability. The site I was looking for had two five-day options that worked for us. We didn't get the exact date we wanted, but it was within two weeks. And since it's not till August, none of our plans were set it stone anyway. [:)C]
     
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  15. nhlakes

    nhlakes Active Member

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    That's the key. We do one or two winter trips to FL each year and the ocean front parks in the lower half of the state are VERY tough to get due to all the full-timers who winter in FL. Even with the 2 of us trying the second the clock ticks on the reservation window, using 3-4 different laptops, we'll often fail to get a site. However, if you keep checking back frequently, you can usually pick up days here and there.

    It might mean you need to change sites during your stay. For example we wanted 4 sequential nights in Sebastian Inlet next Jan and found 3 so we grabbed them. Then found the additional day a week later. Yes, it cost us $7 more with the additional reservation fee, but that's the way it goes.
     
  16. David Blackwell

    David Blackwell New Member

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    The following is the text of my email address to Reserve America and Recreation.gov:

    As a steward of some of the United States’ most precious natural resources, I’m writing to inform you of a serious breach in the integrity of your service.

    As you are no doubt aware, the demand for campsites and access to premier locations, such as Yosemite, is vastly out-stripped by supply. The very existence for websites such as ReserveAmerica and Recreation.gov will attest to that demand. Furthermore, I believe that incredibly high demand for Yosemite’s resources is only the most obvious example of this problem, and is only the tip of the iceberg as to the much larger issue relating to the fair and equitable allocation of access to America’s premier parks and recreation areas.

    The primary problem I am requesting your help in dealing with is the use of computer programs (bots) that automate the acquisition of high-demand campsites rendering 99.99% of your customers simply out-gunned when the window for making a reservation opens.

    Let me describe in detail my own experience. A quick search of the Internet, or perhaps your own customer service records, will no doubt reveal many more examples.

    Last Thursday, March 15th, the window for Yosemite National Park opened. At precisely 7:00:01 am PDT, I was logged in and had my Yosemite site reservation ready to go. My targeted site was available - all system go - ready to launch. I clicked on the "book now" button at precisely the stroke of 7 am and then nothing! I watched helplessly as all 459 sites in Yosemite were gone within 20 seconds. Literally, all of the sites! There's no way 459 humans could complete a single reservation in under a minute - typos alone would slow things down.

    I will admit that it is conceivable that I am mistaken in assuming the above was the result of a bot invasion. Your website could mark a camping site as being reserved with an "R" during the normal course of a human interaction. Nevertheless, it still doesn't add up to me. It was all too quick, complete, and perfect.

    Subsequent to my disappointment, a brief media search revealed several news articles documenting the use of bots to automate the reservation process. In addition, a further search for “reserve america bots” will reveal scripts available for the prospective camper to increase their arsenal of weapons to achieve their objectives. Please see:

    https://alexmeub.com/finding-campsites-with-python/

    https://gist.github.com/wadetb/2fdf2e063f4028a5f11f

    I have also read both Reserve America’s and Recreation.gov’s Terms of Use. Both of which make it clear you understand the problem and ban it’s use. The question is now how effective are your efforts, are you potentially in breach of your contractual responsibilities, and what can or should be done about?

    · I can personally attest that the first question is seriously at odds with reality. There’s no other reasonable interpretation that your websites have nothing to limit or hinder the use of bots. In fact, the first link above states how easy it was to take advantage of ReserveAmerica’s website.

    · I believe it is reasonable to assume that a significant portion of your company’s revenue are closely correlated with the satisfaction of our state and federal park services. The question of whether or not your company is failing to provide your contracted level of service is something I prefer to leave to your state and federal clients to answer another day. However, I have no doubt that the Federal Rules of Acquisition, the various state equivalent requirements, as well as the National Parks Service all have explicit requirements as to compliance with all state and federal laws having to do with unfair or unlawful business practices. Knowingly allowing the continued use of bots may be considered theft or the fraudulent use of public assets. (I invite your legal counsel to peruse the federal False Claim Act and it’s potential triple penalties let alone the possibility of private or public attorney general litigation to address those concerns). Thus, I am equally certain that as a licensee of our state and federal governments, you are committed to exercising the highest level of stewardship when managing America’s greatest treasures.

    · Thus, the last criteria – what can or should be done?

    It’s my understanding that companies around the world have dealt with this problem, at least initially, by installing bot detection software (see: https://captcha.com). Although I am not a programmer, I have spent over 20 years working in the legal department for a large game developer. Simply put, this step should have been taken years ago.

    If taking this step, presents some sort of unforeseen difficulty, you may want to consider placing “high demand” parks in a lottery system and stop the charade of having people attempting to make reservations while facing an overwhelming superior force.

    I hope the above will be sufficient explanation as to the reasons you should take the simple steps requested. In addition, please understand that as a long-time ReserveAmerica client, I am committed to working with you to ensure that everyone is treated fairly. No one person should be allowed to cheat and/or behave unethically, and be rewarded for such efforts.

    Assuming the above will begin the initial steps towards addressing these issues, I hope it will not be necessary to bring these issues to the attention of the National Parks Service, the various State Park Services, State Attorney Generals, and any other entity who controls the awarding of your contracts, as well as enlisting the support of traditional and social media.

    Please forward a copy of this to your legal department. I would appreciate the favor of your reply no later than April 1st.

    P.S. Please note that I have already emailed different, and much shorter requests to both the Reserve America and Recreation.gov customer service email addresses. Please disregard those earlier requests since the above more fully and accurately conveys the nature of my complaint. Posting to the following sites in the interest of expendiency:

    activesecurity@activenetwork.com

    support@active.com

    https://support.recreation.gov/Rec_web2case



    Sincerely

    David Blackwell
     
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  17. ezakoske

    ezakoske Active Member

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    Could be bots, I suppose, but I know we manage to get a site in July every year at Hume Lake which is also an extremely popular campground in the Sequoias. I follow pretty much the same process as it sounds like you did, except I start a bit before opening time (1000 EST, 0700 PST), as I suspect there may be some variance in the time servers being used, and then go into a retry loop until I get the site. My Brother in law and Sister in law are also on at the same time to book their own site.
    I suspect that somewhere like Yosemite just has so many people trying for a very limited amount of sites.
     
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  18. davido

    davido Active Member

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    "Please forward a copy of this to your legal department. I would appreciate the favor of your reply no later than April 1st."

    Neither of those requests are going to happen.

    If you want to get the attention of the legal department, send the message to legal, where it will find the recycle bin promptly. File a lawsuit and pay for legal to be served, then you will have gotten someone's attention, but it will get tossed if it's not filed with legal standing.

    A reply by April 1st is also unlikely to happen, particularly when "legal" is mentioned. Just send it as one human to whichever human reads it, and request a response at earliest convenience. You will get a form message back, but that's about the best you can hope for.

    You may have more success contacting a news agency, but it doesn't rise to a level CNN would be interested in. Start with your local newspaper, your local TV news, etc. TV is more likely to pick it up if you point a video camera at yourself clicking to reproduce the issue, while recording your screen as another video stream. If they do pick it up you'll discover it gets scheduled into their morning show at 5:52am on a Sunday, but is displaced last minute by a particularly cute cat video.
     
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  19. nhlakes

    nhlakes Active Member

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    Wow, thank's for that. The first php script is a simple reminder hack that runs occasionally. The second javacript v2 looks like it might actually work - or may have worked at some point.

    I guess I can see this happening near silicon valley where you have a very technical workforce. Given the folks I see full-timing in FL, I could not see them hacking javascript trying to get a campsite. ;)

    Regardless, your point was valid and it is good to know this is (or at least was) a real problem and that RA is aware. Thanks for that.
     
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  20. davido

    davido Active Member

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    Just noticed, the Python script mentioned above probably does not work anymore if ReserveAmerica is using Captcha to thwart bots, so it appears they've already begun trying to address this vulnerability.

    And the JavaScript version is pretty brainless -- just keeps trying to click a button until it succeeds. Once it does succeed it doesn't proceed to secure the reservation with a credit card, so unless you're sitting there watching it's going to revert back to available after a time-out period.

    There may be better bots out there, but these ones don't seem to be the offenders you're looking for.

    Honestly, writing some script to scrape the site and progress through a complete reservation is not a big job, setting the CAPTCHA defense aside. But it also expressly violates ReserveAmerica's terms of service / use, posted on their website:

    • use any robot, bot, spider, offline reader, site search/retrieval application or other manual or automatic device or process to retrieve, index, data mine, scrape or in any way reproduce or circumvent the navigational structure or presentation of the Site or its contents without our prior written consent, including with respect to any CAPTCHA displayed on the Site. Notwithstanding the foregoing, Active grants the operators of public search engines permission to use spiders to copy materials from the site for the sole purpose of and solely to the extent necessary for creating publicly available searchable indices of the materials, but not caches or archives of such materials. Active reserves the right to revoke these exceptions either generally or in specific cases;
    It seems like they're doing their due diligence of explicitly prohibiting, and technically blocking (via CAPTCHA) bots. I doubt that bots have actually become a big problem for such a low-value target.
     
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2018

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