One of the best things about the Bond films is where Q gives 007 his latest gadgets – they are generally so far fetched that we all realise they are for dramatic purposes only but I’m sure you have noticed the trend towards digital assistance for our hero and you may be surprised to learn that you could also be unwittingly spied upon if you have any on line bookmaker accounts.
A couple of years ago I saw an article on the excellent Geegeez blog detailing how it is possible for some bookies to check all your on line activity without you being aware. I was horrified but an initial check of my pc seemed to show it to be clear so I relaxed. Too soon – an update on the blog from another punter said he thought the same but his savvy son did a more detailed check and found the spying was taking place on his device and lo and behold so it was on mine.
I do not propose to go into detail about the methods used by the bookies here but if you are unsure if you are affected then I have added links at the foot of this article that will let you check. What I did do was catch out 2 bookmakers who denied that they used the software only for me to be able to prove that they did.
In my case I followed the advice given and blocked the spyware as well as lodging a formal complaint with the Data Protection watchdog, the ICO. I was aware that others had complained and asked the ICO to make sure they took all the complaints into account when considering the case. This was apparently too difficult for them but even so they did find in my favour and one of the bookmakers – Coral – was instructed to amend its practices which they did to some extent.
The episode also introduced me to Brian Chappell who is the moving force behind an organisation called Justice for Punters which campaigns on bookmaking issues generally and will also offer specific help to individuals who have been wronged by the bookmakers. He was able to help me get through the maze of spying that goes on and offer advice on how to minimise the impact.
The bookmakers will tell you that the reason they use the software is to prevent fraud – and it would certainly help in that regard – but like much of the public face they present they are being somewhat economic with the truth. The main reason they use the software – often known as IESnare, Reputation Manager or Iovation – is to check if you are a successful punter elsewhere and if so be able to limit your betting activities. This is becoming more and more of an issue as punters develop expertise that means they are more likely to win. In the good old days (for bookies) they held all the cards and with a betting shop or telephone account the only way to bet could manage their books quite readily.
But the advent of the on-line account – which was poorly managed by the bookies – generated a wider interest in gambling and the offers, which are supposed to gather you in to then lose money with the bookmaker, became self defeating if a customer took good advice and then carried on to make their betting profitable. Hence all the attempts to identify you almost before you join!
So what can you do as a punter to minimise the inconvenience that the spying will cause. If you are already well into betting and have several accounts then your footprint is going to be pretty well established and the chances are you will be more and more restricted as you go on. Adding the methods of blocking the software now will only be partially effective as the intelligence is already gathered and any new accounts from your postal address will be cross referenced quite quickly. You may even suffer as one contact did when opening an account with a new bookmaker to him they accepted all the information and his initial £50 deposit following which and without prior warning they limited all his bets to just 1p. And there is the real problem – if you are aware in advance that this information is going to be used against you it is possible to mitigate things to a degree. Hopefully the new regime at the Gambling Commission will move things in the right direction here.
But if you are new to the betting game and want to avoid potential hassle down the line you should consider what to do at the outset. And this advice will also cover those of you who are thinking of asking a relative or pal to let you bet with their name/details as a means of getting back in the game – if you use the device that you have already been betting on this will be spotted immediately and limited.
There are several ways suggested of being as discreet as possible ranging from using a bookmakers shop if you can through popping to your relatives house to do your betting and so use a different internet connection, attempting to hide who you are by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) and going the whole hog and running your activities via a Virtual Private Server (VPS).
The first two options are time consuming and will irritate most after a short while so the Virtual options look favourite. But here there are potential issues if you opt for the VPN route – in simple terms what this does is hide the identity of your pc from the website you are using. But in doing this you will limit the id checks that the bookies will – legitimately – undertake and so immediately flag your self up as a potential problem. Bookmakers can tell if you are using a VPN and some will immediately block you at that point.
More effective is a Virtual Private Server which is the equivalent of having a second device available to you. The server is your personal property and so appears to the outside world as any other pc/device would. Even though you are using your existing internet connection to operate the VPS the websites at the other end of the transaction will see you as a different device with an individual Internet address and so be happy to carry on dealing with you. An additional bonus of using such a service is that you can access it from anywhere in the world that has an internet signal and bookies will still think you are in the UK (or the original country you set up from). This allows you to carry on while away from home even if the country you are in does not allow access to gambling websites. What you should always do is use a server which is based in the country that you will be recording as your address with the bookmaker.
If any members have specific questions about all this please do ask – if I don’t have the answer I am pretty sure I know a man who does!! In the meantime here are the links promised earlier