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Ad Tracking By Online Gambling Industry Under Scrutiny

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Dave, in his early twenties from Scotland, received a marketing email for an internet casino in 2009 telling him to play £200 on an online slot machine and bet another £200.

Over the next ten years, Dave lost £100,000 to his gambling addiction. Despite repeated attempts to close his account and opt out of marketing, he continued to be sent transactions, which he accused of causing addictive behavior and suicidal thoughts.

Dave was targeted by a series of companies, including gambling operators and third-party data brokers. These companies were covertly tracking, profiling, and targeting Dave as a highly valuable asset.

Britain’s Data Watchdog this week said its investigative team was investigating for the first time a complaint outlining the scale and scope of tracking and advertising targeting in the online gambling industry. The government’s plan to do so was put on hold for the fourth time last month.

“Gambling has the ultimate allure,” said Dave, who declined to use his real name. “You always think that gambling a little more will solve your gambling problem.”

According to a parliamentary report, the gambling industry spends £1.5 billion a year on advertising in the UK, with 60% of its revenue coming from 5% of its users. To target their customers, companies collect vast amounts of data from when users log on, from how fast they play to how much money they spend in a session.

A complaint filed with the UK Information Commissioner’s Office by campaign group Clean Up Gambling analyzed the tracking technology used by Sky Bet, an online gambling site owned by Flutter, the world’s largest gambling company, which is also owned by Paddy Power. I’m here.

The pressure group is urgently calling for an audit of the entire online gambling industry, which is believed to employ similar technology, as well as ad tech companies and data brokers using their services.

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Flutter said: We also expect the same level of care and attention from our partners and suppliers.

“All Flutter Entertainment companies do everything possible to provide their products in a safe and reliable manner, to actively protect their customers from harm, and to ensure that their business complies with laws and regulations. We manage customer data in a controlled manner, and we are obligated to do so.”

Much of the tracking by gambling companies is ostensibly aimed at monitoring risky play amid concerns that gambling addiction is becoming more prevalent, especially amid prolonged coronavirus lockdowns. is.

Groups from Entain to Flutter, which own Ladbrokes Coral, have begun employing more sophisticated artificial intelligence systems to inspect player behavior.

Lee Fenton, CEO of Bally’s, which owns Virgin Games, said: Data is our biggest and most powerful tool. “

The complaint being investigated by the ICO is based on a February report written by Austrian researcher Wolfie Christl and commissioned by Clean Up Gambling. The report claims that Sky Bet and its partners create detailed behavioral profiles of subjects and share thousands of data points with dozens of subjects. A third party to convince gamblers that they want to win.

Flutter said it did not have access to the punter’s broader financial data when it created the profile, and Sky Bet uses third parties to target vulnerable customers with sponsored social media ads rather than directing them. said that it helps keep them away from

One advertising partner, Signal, owned by credit research giant TransUnion, had dossier of 186 attributes of individuals, such as gambling tendencies, favorite games, and sensitivity to certain types of marketing.

TransUnion says it helps gambling companies “prevent fraud, verify age and identity, check affordability, and protect vulnerable customers to support responsible gambling.” The company added that it complies with the law and cannot discuss individual customers.

Signal’s profile included metrics such as how much an individual was worth to a gambling company and whether the gambling company returned after failing. It has ceased its activities in the UK after legal action taken after its publication.

“This is the sharp end to data abuse. We’re talking about addiction, people losing huge amounts of money, and profiling being used to make it worse.

“It’s not like selling garden supplies on the internet. We’re talking about something that’s highly addictive.”

The complaint against the ICO alleges widespread illegality in the way Skybet operates, including failing to obtain consent to collect sensitive addiction-related medical data. Ravi Naik, his AWO legal director representing Clean Up Gambling, said:

Flutter said it’s a technology-driven business that uses customer data in many sophisticated ways, but all data was handled lawfully and transparently.

In March, gambling regulators fined Flutter £1.17m and sent promotional emails to Sky Betting and Gaming brand customers for self-excluded from gambling or opted out of marketing communications .

Among those who received such emails was Dave. “I relapsed a few times from Direct’s marketing send,” he said.

“Their business model is basically recruit a customer, ruin a customer, move on to the next customer. All they care about is profit.”