IPP Policy Briefs n°69 - June 2021

Allocation of online appointments: A system to deter black-market profiteers

IPP Policy Briefs n°69

June 2021

Authors : Jeanne Hagenbach, Dorothea Kübler

Contact : hagenbach.jeanne@gmail.com


logo-pdf-minAllocation of online appointments: A system to deter black-market profiteers



Many administrative appointments are now allocated online through booking platforms. The allocation system oftenworks on a “first come, first served” basis, whereby applicants log in to the platform and book the slots that are still available at the time they log in. In several jurisdictions and countries, it has recently become apparent that this system is vulnerable to time-slot trafficking. Scalpers use bots to book slots faster than applicants. Their speed allows them not only to capture all the slots when they are posted, but also to associate their customers’ identities with them later, thus adapting to the constraint created by identity checks. Through their practices, scalpers undermine the equality of access to public service that is expected to prevail.

Based on the work of Hakimov et al., 2021, in this policy brief we present an alternative slot allocation system that discourages scalpers. This simple system works “in batches”: a batch of slots is put online. Requests for this batch are collected during a given period. At the end of this period, slots are randomly allocated to the collected requests. If a secured appointment is cancelled, it is not put back online directly but allocated to one of the subsequent batches. In this system, scalpers have the same chance as applicants to get a slot, so applicants no longer turn to scalpers. We briefly discuss the potential benets of such a system for allocating prefecture appointments for foreigners.

Key points

  • The “first come, first served” allocation system for online appointments is vulnerable to scalping.•
  • We present an alternative allocation system that works “in batches”. This system discourages scalping through two key features.
  • First, requests for available slots are collected over a given period of time. Thus, speed is no longer an advantage.
  • Second, appointments that are cancelled cannot be rebooked directly. There is therefore no advantage for the scalper to ood the platform with requests under identities that are not those of his clients.
  • In some prefectures, it has become very difficult for foreigners to get appointments to obtain or renew residence permits. Slot trafficking is an additional obstacle that the “batch” system can address.

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