LONDON – When Gregg finally stopped gambling in late 2018, he was in dire financial straits. He lost nearly $ 15,000 in a 9-month bet, alongside two outstanding debts totaling more than $ 70,000 and a mortgage of more than $ 150,000 for his little home in England.
Now he’s looking to know if his favorite gambling app, Sky Bet, knows about his problem and is still trying to entice him.
Records show that Sky Bet has the number of records of information about Gregg. The company or one of the data providers they have hired to collect information about users, have access to bank records, mortgage details, location coordinates, and intimate portraits of the habit accustomed to placing his bets on slot machines and soccer matches.
After he stopped gambling, Sky Bet’s profile software labeled him a customer to “get his money back.” He received emails like advertising for the chance to win over $ 40,000 by playing slots, after the marketing software flagged him as having the ability to open them. One prediction model even estimates how much he would be worth if he started gambling again: around $ 1,500.
Gregg learned about behind the scenes after hiring lawyers and leveraging UK data protection laws, which require companies to share the personal data they hold about them with people. He wants to know if Sky Bet is profiling and targeting him even as he tries to quit gambling.
He shared the document with The New York Times on the condition of not using his full name, out of concern that the details would affect his career and sever ties with his family and friends. raft. Sky Bet, which declined to comment on the profile for this article, does not dispute that the records are authentic.
As gambling apps explode in popularity around the world, documents show that one of the gambling industry’s most popular uses has adopted some of the most intrusive tracking and profiling techniques. on the Internet to what extent. Industry critics say, rather than using the data to identify and help problem gamblers like Gregg, the information is used to get players stuck.
Gambling apps like Sky Bet make betting as easy as placing an Uber. Many see them as an innocent diversion. But for a group of gambling addicts, data security activists and industry critics in the UK, home to the largest applied gambling market in the world, the documents give warning. for players and regulators in countries like the United States, where similar offerings are rapidly growing. More than a dozen states, including New Jersey, Nevada and Virginia, now allow app-based gambling.
They say the companies behind the apps require more scrutiny and are calling for tougher laws to identify problem gamblers and prevent data from being used in malicious ways. point and hunt.
Ravi Naik, a London-based attorney behind Gregg’s data-gathering effort, said: “Wherever gambling companies operate, there is a need to have a real understanding of how data is part of it. the indispensable part of business operations. “When we start to look inside the vault, when we are here we will see how vulnerabilities are formed across platforms.”
The data collected so far is only one piece of the puzzle, says Naik. He submitted additional legal moves in the UK to try to discover more details about what gambling companies do with the collected data and if it is used to customize offers and create other tricks to engage customers, especially the most vulnerable players. A House of Lords report published last year states that 60% of the gambling industry’s profits come from 5% of customers who are “problem gamblers” or are at risk of becoming so. .
“We are trying to achieve transparency,” Naik said. “It shouldn’t take a lot of effort from lawyers to find out what’s going on.”
Sky Bet was the most popular gambling app in the UK last year, downloaded about 140,000 times a month, according to market research firm Apptopia. Once controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s British media company, Sky, is now owned by Flutter Entertainment, which owns a number of casino apps and generated roughly $ 7.4 billion in revenue last year.
Nigel Eccles, a former CEO of FanDuel, now owned by Flutter and one of the largest gambling apps in the United States, said online gambling companies have conducted extensive data analysis to identify their best customers. Companies look at how much people are betting and try to predict what will make them spend more. However, he said gambling companies are in a delicate position because their best customers may also experience gambling problems.
“It’s not that they have access to this data – that’s what they do with it,” said Mr. Eccles, who now runs a chat service for sports fans. “If you use that data in a way you know or should know, which is harmful to your users, then that’s a serious problem.”
Mr. Naik, who previously helped uncover data abuse by political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, was contacted last year by Gregg, who was seeking help to get a copy of the data from Sky Bet and the companies it has used to profile users.
The data he and Mr. Naik obtained include his 34-page financial history analysis from a company called CallCredit, which specializes in fraud and check determination for Sky Bet. It contains information about his bank account, debts and mortgages, with details of his monthly payments. In bold is an unpaid debt as of March 2019.
Another company used by Sky Bet, Iovation, provided a spreadsheet with nearly 19,000 data fields, including identifiers of the devices Gregg uses to deposit money into his gambling account and inform news about where they were made.
A document from Signal, a company used by Sky Bet to provide online and offline user tracking tools, lists personal traits, such as slot history and sports betting. Gregg’s favorite sport.
The most alarming, Mr. Naik said, was how the software appeared to come up with suggestions that attracted Gregg again after he stopped gambling at the end of 2018. In the data file it listed Gregg as a client to “Win-back” are codes identifying him as capable of accepting gambling on typical Las Vegas promotions. Having made more than 2,500 deposits on Sky Bet, he is listed as a “high value” customer.
“They took his addiction and turned it into code,” Naik said. “He has high value because he is willing to spend regularly and the money is high even when it paralyzes him. They are saying: Keep him coming back – he was worth a lot more. “
TransUnion, a major US credit scoring agency that owns CallCredit, Signal and Iovation, said it is in compliance with data protection laws and that gambling platforms have used their services in a number of ways, including both for fraud detection and money laundering.
He is already at the forefront of online betting. According to Global Betting and Gaming Consultants, an industry research group, by 2020, the gambling app market in the UK will reach $ 7.3 billion, almost double the next largest market, Japan. This week, four of the top five free sports apps on Apple’s App Store in the UK are related to gambling. Companies own and sponsor soccer teams and dominate advertising during sports events on television.
This country is at the center of the global debate about regulating a new generation of betting applications. According to the agency that conducts the review, the government opened a review of gambling laws, which included a review of new data usage rules and a affordability test.
Lawmakers should pass new rules that allow companies to use data to spot problem gamblers but restrict how it can be used for marketing and sales purposes. another, said James Noyes, a senior fellow at the Social Market Foundation, a consulting organization in London.
“They discover your play style, your preferences, your dislikes, your spending trends and your risks,” said Noyes. “It is taking information about you and immediately responding to you.”