The gambling canary
On Thursday, in a speech at the IPPR, I set out Labour's new plans to tackle online gambling. The 2005 Gambling Act was written so long ago it has more mentions of the postal service than the internet. It is simply not fit for the digital age.
I said the lack of controls in the online space, which turns over £5 billion in bets every year, is leading to gross excesses, abuse and vulnerable problem-gamblers being let down; and I called for a culture of limits to internet gambling: a system of thresholds placed on the spend, stake and speed of online gambling that will give safeguards to consumers.
Part of my thinking in this area - and that of social media regulation - has been drawn from Professor Shoshana Zuboff’s masterful book ‘The Age of Surveillance Capitalism’, in which she outlines how the internet is changing our economy and the very basis of capitalism itself.
The mega corporations of our age - Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon - in her words ‘claim human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data’ which is then turned into predictions of what you will do now, soon, and later.
Then these companies trade these predictions with marketeers and corporations, translating your whole life into devilishly sophisticated advertising that plays to your deepest desires, experiences, needs and weaknesses.
I believe online betting, gaming and gambling is the canary in the mine of surveillance capitalism. Online betting platforms use surveillance capitalism to track and understand and - yes - to predict and change the behaviour of users.
They use this information to enrich themselves by making their games addictive, to sell tailored advertising and to cross-market their products, and to extract money from their customers.
What they fail, appallingly, to do is to use this information to intervene when it is clear that their users have developed a problem with gambling. In fact, a recent Guardian investigation found the industry was using third parties to harvest data in order to target ads at poorer people and ex-gamblers, potentially luring back gambling-addicts in recovery.
The truth is that surveillance capitalism has transformed gambling - giving the ‘house’ an advantage that Las Vegas casinos would kill for: the ability to know and to predict the minds and the actions of their users, sometimes better than their users themselves.
You can read or watch my full speech here.