Back in 2010, Eric Schmidt, the then Executive Chairman at Google, stressed in a conference that every two days as much data was being created as from the beginning of human civilization to the year 2003. From 2010 to 2022, the data again multiplied by 40, and by 2025, it is being estimated it will have tripled again. In other words, every Internet user is currently creating around two megabytes of data per second. In total, we are speaking about around 80 zettabytes of data, a quantity we cannot grasp at all. This data explosion is also driven by additional devices such as smartphones, gadgets with sensors, or other wearable electronics, and will be further pushed by 5G and IoT. But what is being done with all these data?
DATA MAKES IT PERSONAL
Big data is a huge business meanwhile. It is used, among others, to optimize consumer’s journeys and experiences, to prevent fraud and increase security in a better case, but also to manipulate and influence customers in a worse case. We all remember the infamous data scandal of a well-known social media company. Although meanwhile the EU GDPR is intended to prevent such a behavior by requesting the consent of users before data is being collected; in real life, it breaks down to agreeing on what the Internet platforms suggest. Otherwise, one cannot use the full service line-up of most websites. Who really reads all and everything in the Terms & Conditions before consenting to whatever the data collection encompasses?
Getting back to the user experience, data collection and analyses allow providers in general and online gambling operators in particular to personalize products and promotions, even prices, as well as the surveillance of and communication with customers in case they show problematic gambling patterns. So far so good, one could say at first sight. Why not display those products or games first to someone using them the most? Why not show those adverts which already drew the attention of someone to those services? Why not offer adjusted prices depending on different patterns? Isn’t it a real achievement that we can nearly ‘predict’ whether someone might develop an impulsive gambling behavior, i.e. interfere before someone loses control?
NO DUMP FOR DATA
Well, this is indeed a good question. Although the EU has directives in place that define the ‘informing by design’ approach, it has to be asked whether people are fully conscious of what is happening with all those data in the mid and long run. Who else could get to see those data? What about guarantees and the risk of hacking? Are provisions really detailed enough and enforceable? In the course of the mentioned huge scandal, even those who had still thought the Internet would be anonymous must have understood that the Internet is exactly the opposite. Whatever is being done on the Internet remains on the Internet. No anonymity at all! Even if one is not registered or subscribed on a site, the provider can still identify the IP address and collect a number of data about exactly the same person. Is the personal experience that can be provided worth collecting more and more specific data?
I’d like to share some reflections I had on this issue lately:
a) Someone else decides what I get to see. It might be comfortable to just follow the trodden path and use/see what one uses/sees repeatedly or what an algorithm suggests it could be of interest for me like, for instance, on streaming sites. But it can make oneself lazy and narrow-minded, because lots of information is simply not displayed anymore. It might be more burdensome to search and find new things. One would have to even disable certain predefined settings in search machines, but by doing so, one discovers new topics and broadens their horizon. Manipulations become less problematic.
b) Someone else pushes me in a certain direction. If I click on a certain promotion or article, chances are higher that I see more of it, even if it may be from other providers. I would have to actively delete it again.
c) Someone knows more about my behavior than I do. How I gamble, what I read, with whom I speak, how often I purchase goods from someone; these are things I tend to forget, but not so providers. They collect those data, save them and can still use them after years.
A CONCLUSION: WE NEED TO BE INFORMED ABOUT OUR DATA
To conclude, instead of experiencing more individuality, one is often simply deprived of making choices out of a fuller offer. Individuality comes along with an extremely high transparency of what one does, watches and buys. One has nearly no chance of avoiding this data collection if one wants to use a certain service, and even if one can ask and know which data is being collected or can request to delete those data, which proof does one have they are really deleted? Do people also get to know how data is being destroyed or whether they can be restored?
In this sense, awareness is a key for gambling behavior as well as for data use. Looking at the literal explosion of data, I am asking myself whether we need to think about a completely new approach towards data processing and security, including a much more efficient system to educate people about what is possible and what is not possible. In gambling, this is already mostly being done on a broad scale via courses in school, safer gambling campaigns, media attention, or numerous provisions, among others.
When it comes to data, similar activities might be needed. People should to be informed in an easier way. Who really knows how to define settings appropriately in order to provide more privacy or the display of another offer? Customers will have to fully understand how and when data is gathered, what is done with those data, how they are secured and what happens with them in a couple of years from now. The GDPR is still quite vague on certain aspects, like the deletion of data.
Individuality is a good that we enjoy in democratic societies. It stimulates creativity and innovation. However, if we are not careful, it can also make us easy to control, lame and narrow-minded if it is implemented the way it is often being used in the worldwide web.