Does Tracking Online Gambling Behavior Violate Players?

The topic of gathering user data online has been a controversial topic over the last year, and has called into question the practices of search engines, Internet Service Providers, social networks, wireless carriers, and owner/operators of various types of website businesses. It seems our data is being collected from just about anyone and everyone, and the researchers involved in social sciences have decided to chime in as well. While most of the time our data is being collected to help a service provider or product brand analyze user needs and preferences in order to provide more desirable or effective services and products, researchers have found that the Internet provides a platform that allows real time analysis on a huge scale and at a fraction of the cost of traditional studies.

Naturally researchers saw the opportunity to gather in depth data regarding online gambling behaviors, with a global, large scale sample available to them instantaneously. While the idea of being a virtual lab rat may seem a little disconcerting, there is at least a little intrigue as to what the overall results and uses for the research will be, and we have already seen some results that benefit players as much as researchers. The ethical issues involved in the idea of studying online gambling enthusiasts while they are enjoying their favorite wagering action has been scrutinized extensively by the social sciences field, regulators, and those involved with the online gambling industry. Reliability and validity are also carefully scrutinized as the online platform presents its own set of challenges regarding the integrity of the data.

One of the benefits to players we’ve seen emerge from this new research venue is the development of behavioural tracking tools. A few examples of online gambling related tools include PlayScan and Observer. These tools track player behaviour and claim that they can detect problematic gambling behaviour through studying behavioural tracking data. The objective of these tools is to prevent problematic gambling, and when the potential is detected, tools are offered to the player to help them to adjust and modify their behaviour to avoid the development of a gambling problem. Unlike most customer databases which are designed to increase sales, these tools are designed to detect players at risk and help them. These types of behavioural tracking tools combine behavioural science, psychology, mathematics, and artificial intelligence to effectively detect and analyze pertinent data. Using these tools is voluntary, and online gambling operators who employ them strongly recommend that players take advantage of them.

With online gambling remaining a controversial topic in the USA, it is conceivable that the industry will be viewed more favorably if cautionary tools such as these are implemented sort of like ‘safety belts’. Questions have been raised about how to protect the privacy of players, and how to ensure the players’ data does not cause them to be exploited. Just as the data can be used to help players, the same data can be used to exploit them by online gambling operators. While most operators would use the data to enhance player experiences and safety, the more unsavory operations could use the data to target and then entice problem gamblers back to their sites.

The researchers as well as those involved in the gambling industry are very interested in protecting players. In fact, a organization called the International Journal of Internet Research Ethics is dedicated to this type of quandry. To keep players’ interests on the forefront, the majority of the research is tied to informed player consent. Other challenges aside from eithics can impact the quality of the data though, for instance, when tracking behaviour, if a player’s Internet connection is disabled causing them to exit the gambling session, will that be portrayed as a player who chose to end their session? This is an example of a question that can dramatically affect the categorization of the player’s behaviour and the research results it points to. While there’s still some kinks to work out and protective measures to consider, the overall results of real time online gambling research via tracking player behaviour looks to be a win win for everyone.

We’d be very interested in hearing about anyone’s experience who has used one of these behaviour tracking tools when engaged in online gambling, and how players feel overall about the topic of their data being gathered online for marketing and research purposes. Do you feel it is a violation of your privacy or a potential resource for players? Like every scientific or technological advancement, there is a good side and bad side to player behavior tracking, and players are going to need to be armed with information so that we can make sure we stand up for our rights as science and business owners both take an even greater interest in online gambling.

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Source: International Journal of Internet Research Ethics

Friday 04-27-12

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