LONDON — When Gregg finally stopped gambling in late 2018, he was in a dire financial position. He had lost nearly $15,000 during a nine-month betting binge, on top of two outstanding loans totaling more than $70,000 and a mortgage of more than $150,000 on his small home in Britain.
Now he is on a hunt to know whether his favorite gambling app, Sky Bet, knew about his problems and still tried to hook him.
Records show that Sky Bet had what amounted to a dossier of information about Gregg. The company, or one of the data providers it had hired to collect information about users, had access to banking records, mortgage details, location coordinates, and an intimate portrait of his habits wagering on slots and soccer matches.
After he stopped gambling, Sky Bet’s data-profiling software labeled him a customer to “win back.” He received emails like one promoting a chance to win more than $40,000 by playing slots, after marketing software flagged that he was likely to open them. A predictive model even estimated how much he would be worth if he started gambling again: about $1,500.
More than a dozen states, including New Jersey, Nevada and Virginia, now allow app-based gambling.
They said the companies behind the apps required more oversight and are calling for tougher laws to identify problem gamblers and prevent data from being used in underhanded and predatory ways.
London lawyer behind the effort to obtain Gregg’s data. “When we start to look inside the vault, as we are here, then we see how vulnerabilities are laid out to the platforms.”
report published last year said 60 percent of the gambling industry’s profits came from the 5 percent of customers who were “problem gamblers,” or at risk of becoming so.
“We’re trying to get transparency,” Mr. Naik said. “It shouldn’t take this much work from lawyers to figure out what’s going on.”
Sky Bet was the most popular gambling app in Britain last year, downloaded roughly 140,000 times per month, according to the market research firm Apptopia. Once controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s British media company, Sky, it is now owned by Flutter Entertainment, which owns a number of casino apps and generated about $7.4 billion in revenue last year.
chat service for sports fans. “If you use that data in a way that you know, or should know, is harmful to your users, then that’s a serious problem.”
Mr. Naik, who previously helped uncover data misuse by the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, was contacted last year by Gregg, who was seeking help getting copies of data from Sky Bet and companies it used to profile users.
The data that he and Mr. Naik obtained included a 34-page breakdown of his financial history from a company called CallCredit, which conducts fraud and identify checks for Sky Bet. It contained information about his bank accounts, debts and mortgage, with details down to monthly payments. In bold was a loan default in March 2019.
Another company used by Sky Bet, Iovation, provided a spreadsheet with nearly 19,000 fields of data, including identification numbers for devices that Gregg used to make deposits to his gambling account and network information about where they were made from.
A document from Signal, a company used by Sky Bet that provides tools for tracking users online and offline, listed personal characteristics, like Gregg’s history of playing slots and making soccer his favorite sport to bet on.
totaled $7.3 billion, nearly double the next-largest market, Japan, according to Global Betting and Gaming Consultants, an industry research group. This week, four of the top five free sports apps on Apple’s App Store in Britain are gambling related. The companies own and sponsor soccer teams and dominate advertising during televised sporting events.
The country is at the center of the global debate about regulating the new generation of betting apps. The government has opened a review of gambling laws that will include the consideration of new rules for data use and affordability checks, according to the agency conducting the review.
Lawmakers should pass new regulations that allow companies to use data to spot problem gamblers but limit how it can be used for marketing and other sales objectives, said James Noyes, a senior fellow at the Social Market Foundation, a London think tank.
“They detect your pattern of play, your likes, dislikes, spending tendencies and exposure to risk,” Mr. Noyes said. “It’s taking information about you and turning it right back on you.”