A detailed investigation into data flows in the online gambling industry revealed the scale and depth of surveillance and data practices deployed by gambling operators to build detailed profiles of their customers.
Behavioral Data Harvesting
The investigation commissioned by Clean Up Gambling, a not-for-profit gambling campaign in the UK, and carried out by Creative Labs, an Austria-based data research institute, revealed disturbing details as to how the gambling industry uses personal behavioral data to keep people gambling, The Daily Mail reported.
By just 37 visits to its websites, Sky Betting and Gaming (SBG) transmitted customer data to 44 different digital surveillance companies in a total of 2,154 transmissions with the greatest number of transmissions received by Adobe, Facebook, Google and Signal.
“This use of data is far more intrusive than any proposed customer affordability checks, although the latter would be to protect consumers rather than to exploit them.”Matt Zarb-Cousin, Director, Clean Up Gambling
Some companies received detailed behavioral data on customer activities like depositing, as well as personal identifiers in the form of customer ID or SBG username, while another company received information regarding every spin of the player.
“Use of personal data upholds the online gambling sector’s model of obtaining a majority of its profits from either addicted or at-risk gamblers,” added Zarb-Cousin.
The investigation which requested gambling operators and third parties to provide access to the data on how individual customer data was processed by them uncovered sensitive information related to how often gambling occurred, how much was spent, as well as the player’s value to the company if the business is successful in bringing those customers back was shared to third parties in real-time.
The report revealed how SBG utilized the services of Signal to process the behavioral data SBG collects from its customers with or without their consent, including full gaming history with timestamps of each gambling session and the amounts of completed bets, to build individual player profiles based on up to 186 profile attributes.
“Such profiles include indicators of personal vulnerabilities and addictive behaviors, which can then be used to target the most vulnerable,” Clean Up Gambling concluded.
Network of Inter-Feeding Data Companies
By sharing individual behavioral data with marketing and risk surveillance tools such as MediaMath and IOVATION, player profiles built on behavioral data over various websites and platforms and with information collected online helped the creation of a network of interlinked businesses that feed this data to each other, allowing them to target individual vulnerabilities via advertising to maximize engagement.
“Given so much data exists that could be used by operators to reduce harm, but is instead abused to advance commercial objectives, it is unfathomable that the Gambling Commission is allowing the Betting and Gaming Council, of which SkyBet is a member and funder, to lead on creating and controlling the ‘single customer view’ as a means for enforcing affordability controls.”Matt Zarb-Cousin, Director, Clean Up Gambling
Last month, the Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy Chris Philp signaled in a conference speech support for the “single customer view,” challenging the industry to “pick up the gauntlet and work closely with both regulators to develop a system that works.”
The report failed to identify whose responsibility it was to protect customer privacy and behavioral data and how such practices of customer player data harvesting that are present not only in the gambling industry should be uprooted.