Law in the Internet Society
Big Data and Directed Marketing: The Case of Machine Gambling

Casinos began to collect and analyze large amounts of data about their patrons before internet corporations became famous for consumer monitoring, largely because gaming was one of the few industries before the internet became mainstream whose customers interacted with a computer for a significant portion of their time in the establishment. As one trade journalist noted in 1990, gambling machines have been transformed from stand-alone games into networked “electronic surveillance devices.” Approximately 70% of gamblers use a loyalty card, which allows the casino to track their action with great specificity. Just as the self-contained world of the casino makes it a model environment to track gamblers, the obvious exploitative ends to which the data are used provides a lens with which to study the practice of consumer tracking. In casinos, one purpose for which large-scale data collection takes place is to inform the design of gambling machines. The philosophy of contemporary slot machine design is “player-centrism.” In the words of one designer, “The more you customize your machines to fit the player, the more they play to extinction; it translates into a dramatic increase in revenue.”

All gambling games are zero-sum. Any increase in revenue for the casino is a decrease in the money its patrons have. A supporter of casinos could argue that while gambling transactions are zero-sum in terms of money, they are positive sum because people receive entertainment from the experience of gambling. While this is true of many casual players, repeat players do not play for entertainment. Natasha Dow Schüll, whose book Addiction by Design served as the primary inspiration for this essay, has found in her ethnographic research that machine gambling addicts play in order to enter the “machine zone,” a “trancelike state that ‘distracts from internal and external issues’ such as anxiety, depression and boredom.” For repeat slot machine players, the absorbing experience of play is an end in itself. However, for the casino and its shareholders, the end is to extract the maximum amount of money from the player. The slot machine acts as a precursor and a microcosm of the use of behavioral analysis of data and “user-centric” design as tools to addict people to the use of screens.

The use of behavioral analytics by casinos to increase revenues suggests the malicious nature of directed advertising by retailers. Not every transaction entered into by two agents is mutually beneficial and the increase in the number of transactions as a result of “better” advertising does not necessarily increase social welfare. When someone responds to the directed marketing of Amazon and buys with one click, she often engaged in a similar sort self-destructive behavior as the machine gambler but of a lesser degree. The slot machine designer and the market both want to satiate desires before as they crop up and before a person has the opportunity to engage in rational thought about the transaction. Directed advertisements of Amazon create an irrational impulse to buy and the retailers have the virtual infrastructure in place to allow consumers to act on those impulses before they are able to think rationally about whether they would prefer x dollars or y consumer product. This results in shopping being more about the satisfaction of impulses than the sale of goods, and in the end the shopper is left with something of little value, just as the gambler is left with nothing of value after mathematical necessity has extinguished his gambling budget.

The slot machine and its design is a microcosm for the larger market of consumer electronics, and the “machines zone” is not solely the province of addicted gamblers, but of smart phone addicts as well. Just as slot machine designers make gameplay and transactions as frictionless as possible in order to not interrupt the trance that is the reason for playing for the addict and the lever of riches for the casino, the smart phone apps for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr are designed to create a similar trancelike state in their users in order to keep them on the app as long as possible. In particular, each of these apps employ “infinite scrolling” so that users can be entertained by one small pleasure after another without having to endure a loading screen that could break the rhythm sustaining the trance. These elements of design do make the very next moment of the user’s life a little more pleasant, but only at the cost of purposive activity and relationship building. The gambling addict empties his checking account, and the screen addict checks out, giving his attention to Facebook instead of something or someone more worthwhile and valuable.

Player-centrism in slot machine design seeks to understand the gambler as completely as possible in order to maximally exploit him. While it would be fallacious to infer from this that the use of behavioral analytics to inform design in other industries is necessarily a means of extracting more from consumers without providing any extra benefit, it does show that design centered on the satisfaction of desire is not necessarily in the best interest of consumers regardless of whether or not they like it more. Just as the slot machine can be designed in order to conform to the desires of the gambler while simultaneously undermining his true interest, so too can the desires of the consumer of content be satisfied while working against his best interest.

This is a summary of someone else's argument. It bears the marks of having been constructed by paraphrase, from Schull paraphrasing Sicart I suppose, in some sort of circular construction. Information is conveyed to the reader, and a final paragraph of opinion whose stylistic unlikeness to what goes before identifies it as the portion you personally contributed provides the personal touch.

But what in the end was the point? Not to introduce "autotelic" as an unnecessary pomposity, I shouldn't think. Nor to provide the idea of industrial gambling as akin to industrial work in the production of alienation, suggested by Marx originally and subsequently reinvented by no small number of others. I think the most valuable route to improvement here is to dissect back out the idea to which you are committed here, the one that is yours, and make it the center of the next draft, relegating ideas already well expressed in others' words to linking or, at worst, citation.

-- AlexanderGerten - 01 Feb 2016



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r3 - 23 Feb 2016 - 08:44:11 - AlexanderGerten
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