Microsoft Ad Tech Platform Xandr Used to Track Gamblers

Posted on: August 16, 2023, 08:38h. 

Last updated on: August 16, 2023, 12:14h.

In November 2020, Wolfie Christl, a researcher and tech expert with the Cracked Labs research institute in Vienna, Austria, said that Microsoft365 contained unique features that could help it be used as a surveillance tool. He’s now confirmed that Microsoft is a great data source, including for gambling information most gamblers likely didn’t know they were giving up.

The Microsoft sign outside its headquarters
The Microsoft sign outside its headquarters. The company’s ad tech platform is being used by marketers to target gamblers around the world. (Image: Reuters)

Christl stumbled upon a treasure trove on the Xandr website, an online ad tech platform Microsoft bought from AT&T in 2021. Within this digitized repository lies a multitude of data from providers who seek to equip advertisers with the power to target specific online demographics.

It includes an expansive collection of 650K global audience segments. Among them are datasets created by a multitude of data vendors offering diverse strategies to effectively target potential gamblers not only in the US and Europe, but also in Australia and other countries.

New Chaos In the Gaming Space

Xandr has become a well-used tool by advertisers and marketers. It’s a massive repository and data funnel with substantial categorization capabilities that can help companies greatly improve their marketing efforts.

Christl discovered that it includes clusters of individuals who exhibited a keen interest in online casinos and sports betting. Furthermore, he found extensive data targeting Australian bettors, drilling down to the most minute details of their habits.

For example, there was a “heavy TAB gamblers” category, as well as a “gambling at pub/club” category. There were also categories for bettors who bet during the Spring Racing Carnival, an annual horse racing event, and on the National Rugby League.

Over 40 different categories exist for Australian bettors and gamblers alone, not including the categories for other geographic regions. Additional data indicated whether an individual had gambled in the last seven days, which can be flipped to find those who didn’t in order to target them through marketing.

While it’s still not illegal to advertise gambling and betting products in Australia, the country is heading in that direction. The revelation of how Xandr is being used to target the gambling ecosystem will likely speed up the process.

No Big Deal to Microsoft

Christl’s research is built on previous research led by investigative reporter Jon Keegan and data analyst Joel Eastwood. In June, they authored a report that appeared in The Markup showing how extensive Xandr was.

Among the myriad of options available are “heavy purchasers” of “pregnancy test kits” and those who have “an interest in brain tumors.” There’s also a “Dunkin Donuts Visitors” category. All of the categories also reportedly contain data on the companies that supplied the information.

This is no big deal, according to Microsoft. It provided a statement to Guardian Australia that explained that the information wasn’t supposed to be published on the site and that it wasn’t current. However, it didn’t deny Xandr’s capabilities.

Privacy and responsible gambling advocates would disagree that it’s not a big deal. Even if the categories don’t directly link to the gambling space, compiling analytical resolutions on larger data sets can give gaming operators more insight into where they should target their marketing initiatives.

Market channelization is an intrinsic component of marketing. The Internet has just made it easier. The realization of Xandr’s capabilities, however, might make some people think twice before handing over their email address just to sign up on a website that doesn’t actually need it.