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Ad tracking by online gambling industry comes under scrutiny

Dave, a Scotsman in his early 20s, received a marketing email for an internet casino in 2009 offering £200 more to bet if he played £200 on the online slots.

Over the next ten years, Dave would lose £100,000 to his gambling Seeks. Despite multiple attempts to close his accounts and opt out of marketing, he continued to receive offers which he blamed for initiating addictive behaviors and suicidal thoughts.

Dave had been targeted by a number of companies, including gambling operators and third-party data brokers, who had secretly tracked, profiled and targeted him as an extremely valuable asset.

This week, the UK data watchdog said its investigation team was looking into a complaint that outlines for the first time the extent and scope of tracking and ad targeting in the online gambling industry. The move comes as government plans to reform gambling laws were put on hold for the fourth time last month.

“Gambling has the ultimate catch,” said Dave, who declined to give his real name. “You always think you can solve your gambling problems by playing more.”

The UK gambling industry spends £1.5 billion a year on advertising and 60 per cent of its profits come from 5 per cent of users, who are mostly vulnerable or problem gamblers, according to a Parliament report. In order to target customers, companies accumulate huge amounts of data from login, game speed to session spend.

Campaign group Clean Up Gambling’s complaint to the UK Information Commissioner’s Office analyzes the tracking technology used by Sky Bet, a Sky Bet online gambling site flutterthe world’s largest gaming company, which also owns Paddy Power.

The advocacy group has urged an scrutiny of the entire online gambling industry, which it believes uses similar techniques, and the adtech companies and data brokers whose services it uses.

Flutter said: “Protecting our customers and their personal information is of the utmost importance to Sky Betting & Gaming and other brands in the Flutter Entertainment group. We expect the same level of care and vigilance from our partners and suppliers.

“All Flutter Entertainment companies manage customer data in a controlled manner to ensure we deliver our products safely and reliably, to do everything in our power to proactively protect our customers from harm, and to ensure that our business is the… legal and regulatory requirements fulfills obligations.”

Much of the tracking carried out by gambling companies is said to be to monitor for dangerous gaming amid fears that gambling addiction is becoming more prevalent, particularly during the long stretches of the coronavirus lockdown.

Groups from Enttain, which owns Ladbrokes Coral, to Flutter have begun using more advanced artificial intelligence systems to study player behavior.

Lee Fenton, Managing Director of Bally’s, which owns Virgin Games, said: “We use data across our business. Data is our greatest and most powerful tool.”

The complaint, reviewed by the ICO, is based on a February report authored by Austrian researcher Wolfie Christl and commissioned by Clean Up Gambling, which alleged that Sky Bet and its partners were creating detailed behavioral profiles of individuals and sharing thousands of data points with dozens by third parties to convince players that they want to win back.

Flutter said it did not have access to players’ broader financial data when it created profiles and that Sky Bet uses third parties to target sponsored social media ads away from, and not towards, vulnerable customers.

One advertising partner, Signal, which is owned by credit reporting giant TransUnion, had a dossier of 186 attributes for an individual, including their gaming inclination, favorite games and their susceptibility to certain types of marketing.

TransUnion said it supports gaming companies to “prevent fraud, verify age and identity, verify affordability and protect vulnerable customers to support responsible gaming.” The company added that it was unable to discuss individual customers and was complying with the law.

Signal’s profile included metrics such as the person’s financial value to the gambling companies and whether they returned after expiration. Signal ceased operations in the UK following legal action following the release of Christl’s report.

“This is the sharp end of data breaches. We talk about addiction, people losing huge amounts of money, and profiling being used to make it worse,” said Matt Zarb-Cousin, director of Clean Up Gambling, who is himself a former addict.

“It’s not like selling gardening tools on the internet. We’re talking about something very, very addictive.”

The complaint to the ICO alleges widespread illegality in the way Skybet operates, including its failure to seek consent to collect sensitive medical information related to addiction. “None of our clients knew they were being profiled, let alone that third parties were involved,” said Ravi Naik, legal director at AWO, who represents Clean Up Gambling.

Flutter said it’s a technology-driven company that uses customer data in a number of sophisticated ways, but that all data is processed lawfully and transparently.

In March, the Gaming Authority fined Flutter £1.17m for sending promotional emails to customers of its Sky Betting and Gaming brand who had self-excluded from gambling or opted out of marketing communications.

Among those who received such emails was Dave. “I’ve relapsed a few times after receiving direct marketing,” he said.

“They have a business model that is basically recruit customers, ruin them and move on to the next. All they care about is profit.”

Ad tracking by online gambling industry comes under scrutiny Source link Ad tracking by online gambling industry comes under scrutiny

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