Haley's Poker Blog

No bad beats, but still a poker blog... hence the anguish.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sharkscope Punted from Stars' Good Graces, Part the First

The battle between what's right for a small percentage of players and what's right for online poker as a whole couldn't have a more perfect illustration than the standoff between PokerStars and online database service SharkScope, which specializes in SNG and MTT tournament results. SharkScope is just one of a handful of sites that offer information that, in a sense, can be used to skew the balance and sense of fair play that is necessary to maintain the integrity of poker.

These recent flareups can be traced back in some sense to a post former Stars room manager Lee Jones made over at the biggerdeal.com blog a couple of months back. Jones prefaced his post about why anonymous user ID's may well be the next evolution in the online game with the following: "What I’m writing here is my opinion, and not necessarily PokerStars’ opinion. Please don’t confuse the two." And in a similar note I'd like to add that these are my opinions, here, not those of my employer or employers.

While it's true enough that Jones is no longer, technically, a Stars employee (having moved over to the EPT), it's also apparent that the impact of certain online software aids has been a topic of concern to the higher-ups at Stars, Jones or otherwise. With good reason, too: As previously mentioned here, the real and/or perceived imbalance caused by some of these live-assist programs has dire implications for the flourishing of the online poker world as a whole.

Knowing that Stars is thinking about these things, it wasn't then that surprising to see Stars take a first step towards limiting the amount of information about online players. At issue was the publication of "ROI" [Return On Investment] data for players at various sites, which is, over a lengthy period of time, a reasonable top-line indicator of a player's general skills. (Subjectively, I'd say it's of questionable worth on results of a thousand tournaments or less, due to the extreme fluctuations caused by short-term variance. I have the data to support that, too.)

Be that as it may, here's what the original notice from Stars, posted on several forums, decreed:

PokerStars’ Policy Regarding “Rankings / Ratings” Services

Distribution: Operators of Online Poker Player Ranking Sites

To ensure player privacy regarding certain player statistics and financial information gathered by websites (hereinafter “Service Operator”) that collect and organize PokerStars players’ results by various means, PokerStars has devised the following rules with which such Service Operators must comply:

1. No player profitability data (i.e. ROI, net profit, etc) may be displayed on any player unless the player has explicitly opted into such display by transferring $0.03 to a prominently published PokerStars account owned by the Service Operator. This request must be acknowledged by the Service Operator by sending the $0.03 back to the player as confirmation within a reasonable time frame not to exceed 5 days.

2. Any player may choose to completely opt out of having any information about them displayed on the Service. To do so, player will transfer $0.01 to the service operator’s PokerStars account. This request must be acknowledged by the Service Operator by sending the $0.01 back to the player as confirmation within a reasonable time frame not to exceed 5 days. Note that the amount here is different, in order to distinguish an opt-out request from an opt-in request.

3. The use of the “transfer from user to Service and back again” method for opt-in and opt-out is required. This method permits these requests to be handled privately and securely without the disclosure of the player’s Email, real name, or other private information. Only the player’s PokerStars User ID is required.

4. Both the opt-in and opt-out options must be prominently displayed on the main / front page of the Service (at minimum, a normal-sized link on the front page to a more complete description elsewhere).

5. If the service’s operation pre-dates the establishment of these guidelines, there shall be no “grandfather clause” for existing data. 100% of historical profitability data must be removed from view until such time as a player explicitly opts in as above.

Any Service Operator found to be in violation of these rules risks having their access to PokerStars’ game client restricted and/or the service impeded, including but not limited to the warning of players who access the Service while the PokerStars client is open.


Basically, Stars said that displaying "player profitability data" (ROI) about its customers was allowable if and only if those players chose to be so listed, by specifically opting in to those services offering that information. I find this to be a totally reasonable, even welcome development, for reasons I'll come back to in a bit. Nat Arem, head honcho at thepokerdb, recently acquired/assimilated into Bluff Magazine's online offerings, quickly implemented the new requirements into the pokerdb site, as did the folks over at arcatum.net (StarTracker), another such site.

A couple of other sites gave Stars the virtual finger, perhaps none more so than SharkScope, whose owner, Steve, posted the following in response to the PokerStars decree:

at SharkScope we are currently evaluating Pokerstars' proposed policy and considering its impact. We will make another statement in due course.

At the present time we have no plans to degrade our functionality with respect to searching data on PokerStars players as on initial reading we consider the policy unfeasible to adhere to.

In the past we have been the only site to offer any kind of user self blocking and this has been entirely voluntary on our part. We consider this system to be the perfect balance between those who want as much data as possible to increase their profitability and those that wish to have privacy.

Steve
SharkScope
(posted 8/2, 2+2)

Stars security then fired back with an ultimatum that basically said, if certain sites choose not to comply voluntarily, then Stars would begin exploring ways to block them.

SharkScope basically said "pfffffft" to that, and went on with business as usual. Nor was that much of a surprise, really, since SharkScope offers little of top-level value besides ROI numbers, and getting rid of that would put a dent into SharkScope's own subscription sales and revenue stream.

Well, Stars kept its word, and has now added SharkScope to its list of banned sites and software programs for its refusal to implement an opt-out program. Since SharkScope is not a live-time process, but a website, this implies that Stars has implemented 'sniffer' technology to determine if someone is visiting the SharkScope site while logged in to Stars, in which case it's likely that the Stars site will flash a initial warning to the offending user, and then lock down the Stars client if the user persists in trying to use it while also playing at the site.

More next time.

6 Comments:

Blogger KajaPoker said...

I read the whole post and then almost fell off my seat when I got to the sniffer comment. If this is in fact true that opens up a whole can of worms as far as spyware, malware and privacy issues.

I doubt that PokerStars is spying on their players by using sniffers in their software. I think it would have been detected by AntiSpyware software very quickly.

The backlash from something like that could in fact kill the site as well as open it up to privacy class action suits.

1:08 PM  
Blogger KajaPoker said...

I just logged in to Stars and got on the SharkScope page to see if anything happened. Nada. I wonder how they will enforce this.

1:14 PM  
Blogger guest said...

Kaja,

Two points to make:

(1) Stars and all other sites are private services that players choose to sign up and participate in, and according to most sites' Terms of Service (which can be loosely categorized as UELA agreements), the software/game client can do pretty much anything it wants to while it's running and the customer is voluntarily logged in. PartyPoker takes desktop screen-grabs, di'nja know?

Besides, I've gotta admit I find the concept of someone filing a privacy class-action suit over something like this pretty hilarious. Stars' response would be like this, if perhaps a bit more formal: "You're trying to tell us how we run our business? Go take a hike, Jack."

2) I also said it 'implies' a sniffer of some sort, to see what processes are running, because I don't see another way for a site such as Stars to back up their ban. But as you've mentioned, perhaps Stars has just listed SS as being banned as of this moment, giving the site one last chance to voluntarily conform before actually putting a block of some sort into place. It's likely, though, that a future software patch will implement something of the sort.

1:39 PM  
Blogger guest said...

Ummm.

EULA, not UELA; me cannot type. And this is indeed Haley, both here and on the previous comment. My own settings are fubar right now.

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for summarizing everything so well. StarTracker is on arcatum.net, not arcatum.com.

8:18 PM  
Blogger guest said...

Thx, anony!

-- Haley

9:11 PM  

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