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I work for a big digital marketing agency as a Web Analyst. One of our clients is a sports betting website. In a recent meeting they asked us to help with a new strategy. It basically involves re-targeting people that have a lower income and have a high chance of losing. We recently did a study that confirmed that that segment makes the most money bottom line.

Most of the colleagues in my team don't care ("It's their money and their decision") but I feel really bad specifically targeting the poorest people that bet on their favorite team and end up losing most of the time. However, this task got assigned to me. I already voiced my doubts about the strategy but that was quickly waved away. Am I being too sensitive here about not wanting to do it? Is this crossing an ethical line? Would love to hear an opinion from outside the advertising bubble.

Edit: Thanks everyone for sharing their thoughts! Because of these I decided to not do the project. I had an open discussion with my team lead about this, and he understood my point of view. He took me off the project and gave it to one of my colleagues. Even though I still feel uncomfortable with the whole situation, I understand it's completely legal and for me there are hundred other people who would do the job. But, I'm glad I stood up for myself and I'm thankful my team lead was so understanding.

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    Related: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/15115 – Tyzoid Jul 30 at 13:10
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    "I feel really bad specifically targeting the poorest people" that is because you don't realize how many lives are ruined by a gambling addiction. It's like a drug addiction, in that your starting finances don't matter much because almost every addict goes to the bottom. It isn't hopeless... Gamblers Anon proves that, but it is very hurtful to a lot of people every year. – J. Chris Compton Jul 30 at 13:27
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    Whether intended or not, “targeting the poorest people” is effectively what state lotteries do. – WGroleau Jul 30 at 15:50
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    "I'm glad I stood up for myself and I'm thankful my team lead was so understanding" - Oh, I am too (as many others here probably are). Thanks for the update! – Marc.2377 Jul 30 at 22:52
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    @KyleDelaney you're confusing Capitalism (private ownership of the means of production) with Free Enterprise (private business operates in competition and largely free of state control). – RonJohn Jul 31 at 2:32
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Ask if you can be reassigned to another project.

I already had some question in interview such as "would it be ethically ok for you to work for a military project?". Some companies do care about this kind of things, and could therefore reassign you to another project. After all, it's in their interest to make sure you are happy and motivated with your projects.

If your manager isn't very receptive to this request, it's up to you to decide if you want to stay on this project/company.

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    I'm not sure asking to be assigned to another project really absolves anything, though. Instead of doing the project directly, you're instead freeing up the plate of someone else to do it instead. If Bob Bobson was going to work on the Homeless Helper 3000 and you refuse to work on the Poor Smasher XX - and you end up switching tasks... you didn't actually change anything. Poor Smasher XX still gets built, because you freed up Bob's plate by taking over the Homeless Helper 3000 for him. Not saying "Don't do it", but getting reassigned isn't a magic wand, imo. – Kevin Jul 29 at 21:25
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    @Kevin on the same token, resigning from the company entirely frees up a job that someone else can be hired to do. Refusing to do work you find unethical rarely prevents that work from being done, but that doesn't mean refusing is pointless. – Justin Lardinois Jul 29 at 22:26
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    @Kevin Sure, it isn't a magic wand, but if a lot of workers did the same thing, the company may have to start looking at the projects they are picking up. Agree that one worker won't make much of a difference though. – Gregory Currie Jul 29 at 22:44
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    @Kevin It is important to realize that many ethical systems - and for that matter, perhaps most of them in popular practice around the world today - are not based on analysis of "ends", or results. Instead, ethical practices are an analysis of "means" (actions) themselves. Murder, in most systems, is not evil only if it takes a life that would/should be spared otherwise, but rather it is good simply not to do it regardless of the outcome; if other people do it, that's on them, not you. Ends are a problem for consequentialists/utilitarians, but other systems avoid the problem entirely. – BrianH Jul 30 at 3:05
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    If you ask to be reassigned, the job will be done by someone who wasn't the first choice. Maybe it won't be done as well, or it'll have to wait until the other guy is free, but your action will have had some positive effect. – Robin Bennett Jul 30 at 9:17
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My opinion is that is a predatory practice and it is unethical. And it's the case that any decent moral or ethical system worth its salt is occasionally going to demand that you take a hit. It's easy for me to be an armchair quarterback and say, "Stand up for what's right and take the consequences." Still, that's what my advice is.

I did this once. I won't bore you with the details, but, while I didn't lose my job, things became so miserable that I quit with no new job lined up. But a wonderful thing happened a couple years later. One of my former co-workers patronized the restaurant where my daughter worked. He still had the credit card with the company logo on it and she saw it and said, "Oh, my dad used to work there." "Really, who's your dad." When she told him, the guy began singing my praises. "Your dad is a great man who will stand up for what's right and fight for the little guy. He's not afraid of the corporate goons...."

The whole nasty mess was worth it just for that moment. Anyone can be an employee. I prefer to be "that guy." Especially in front of my daughter.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Jul 30 at 15:02
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    +1 for the second sentence. Any morality that doesn't stop you from doing things you have some incentive to want to do is pretty pointless, now isn't it? – Mason Wheeler Jul 31 at 2:57
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When an ethical concern comes up in the workplace there's a couple considerations.

First, we need to understand Ethical. Ethical is sometimes legal and sometimes illegal. So find out if it's illegal. If it's not illegal, then we're in the more difficult part of the conversation.

Second, decide how important your values are to you. This is difficult. Often this needs to be weighted against your self interests. Is targeting marginal populations more important than the rent? Is the rent even a concern? (Maybe you're comfortable and organized?) How's the market? How easy / difficult will it be to transition to a new job? What are the risks to your well being? All difficult questions.

In short you're weighing your principles and values against your well-being. The best you can do it try to navigate it. So, organize a one on one with your manager and voice your concerns. BEFORE you do this, make a decision about what happens when they reject your request or continue to push you to do what you believe is not right.

Once that decision is made, write up your resignation email / letter and prepare it. Then sit down and have that one on one. Be clear about your position and intent.

I cannot do this task, because it violates my personal values. I feel this is unethical.

Make sure you also communicate this in email. You always want things in writing.

If they ignore your concerns, then you act. Give your letter or send the email and move on. Otherwise, bite the bullet and accept the result.

I cannot tell you what is the right course of action. I'm just advocating for making it as clear a process as possible.

Some additional side notes:

You just keep quiet while you look for another position and then leave once you've been hired. This is the "happy medium" in that you step away from an unethical organization. However, this also means you have engaged in unethical (by your definition) behavior.

Please consider your position. Think long and hard about it. It's an admirable thing to stand by your principles, but be prepared for hardship, because the world is not a principled place.

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What you should do depends on how much you value your code of ethics. If push comes to shove, knowing that your conscience isn't edible, are you willing to quit your job or be fired rather than work on the project?

You can voice your concerns directly to your manager and see if they would be willing to reassign the project. If you do happen to be successful, there's a good chance this could be viewed negatively in a performance review as, while you can't be forced to commit a crime by your employer, what you've described doesn't seem to be illegal (at least not more than any of the mobile games with pay to win mechanics).

On the other hand there could be reputational repurcussions, but those seem to be few and far between so long as people aren't physically harmed - after all if successful all you'll be doing is advertising a service to gamblers.

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Just a quick congrats on your stance and ethics. I'm the same as you and have a blanket rule that I will never work for a company that produces gambling software (huge industry where I live - Australia). Stand your ground, nothing wrong with not wanting to take part in destroying lives and tearing families apart. Its more than "their money their choice", it brings alcoholism (from desperation), domestic violence, suicides, theft, all sorts of things. When I had this discussion with someone here my response was that if I'm willing to take part and contribute to that I might as well cook meth and sell that, you're spreading just as much misery plus the money is better.

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    It’s especially bad in Oz with the pokies; in the U.K. now the government is really cracking down on them. The howls of the bookies are sweet music to my ears. – Gaius Jul 30 at 11:57
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    @Gaius gambling is entrenched in Aussie culture, I don't see it going anywhere anytime soon over here. Ultimately it is what it is but a man has every right to refuse to take part in it or speak up when something isn't right. I've refused many a application invite simply because of the industry. I've also put in complaints when online gambling ads were plastered all over our trains (i.redd.it/e33z7ac81wp11.jpg). Thats just wrong. – solarflare Jul 30 at 22:38
  • @solarflare "it's entrenched", just like homophobia was almost everywhere including Australia... but that's being frowned upon these day! So there is hope. Living in the UK, yes the bookies are closing down at a high rate but less than the rate at which they opened 3-4y ago, so it's more a regression to normal I fear. We can only hope they diminish. – user3445853 Jul 31 at 19:58
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All my resignations from my previous positions were due to similar kind of issues. I just couldn't get over myself and cannot agree when companies are harming others to make their money or harming/ taking advantage of their employees. Somebody's going to replace me but at least it's not me. I'm happy to move on. I think you have to ask yourself can your live with yourself doing something like that? Clearly it's troubling you, if your company cares about their employee just a little they'll get someone else who's willing to do it or give it a 2nd thought. If they're giving you a hard time and causing you to lose sleep well you know you should move on to a diff company.

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IMHO, it is your right to deny working on any project for any reason.

However, your employer have same if not more discretion to terminate your employment if your protest affect their bottom line.

As i see it, you have few options, such as asking to work on other project, refuse to work on this one, voice your objections and work on this project or resign.

Betting websites compose huge number of internet traffic, along with pornography and prostitution ones, there are also offline betting etc services run along the same lines.

Social Engineering is basis of most websites due to abundant supply, nether-mind its focus

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    Well, no. As long as you are employed, denying to do the work that is in the scope of your responsibilities is a breach of contract and can result in disciplinary action, which can be a wolf ticket. You can always resign, but do your job until your contract ends. – Danubian Sailor Jul 29 at 20:54
  • @DanubianSailor I guess it can be dependent on your location. – Strader Jul 29 at 21:02
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If you honestly think the project you are about to work us goes against your morals, you should definitely refuse it unless you are in a critical situation (you have no other choice to feed your family or similar) Even if you lose your job, you can get another one, but I don't think there is any way of having a happy life after having knowingly done evil.

That being said, I don't think there is anything particularly unethical about your project. I do understand your point of view, but something similar can be said about any marketing project. After all, marketing is about fooling people into believing they need stuff they actually don't in order to get a profit. I don't see why fooling people into gambling is more harmful than fooling them into buying a fancy car they don't even have the money for in the first place.

And, in recent times, with online marketing and social media, I would say the sector has become even more "unethical", as entire networks of on-civilian espionage have being built, with a level of intrusion in our private lifes that is beginning to ressemble Orwell's 1984... and all of that just to make people click on ads!

In short, you can (and in my opinion, should!) absolutelly refuse a project/job that goes against your morals, but you may also want to think about whether the "unethical" part of such project is something isolated or is just a representation of a more fundamental problem within your entire sector.

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    Re: I don't see why fooling people into gambling is more harmful than fooling them into buying a fancy car they don't even have the money for in the first place. I'd say when buying a car you still get actual value for your money (that value may or may not be equivalent and lasting...) but when gambling you're not (on the average) receiving anything of actual value. (I.e. the car could be traded for at least a part of its initial value.) – Inarion Jul 30 at 11:38
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    @Inarion Your bets also don't have -100% expectancy. Indeed, you could be losing way less money in the long run by gambling than by buying a car – David Jul 30 at 11:43
  • @David I don't think this is the best logic. You essentially say that it costs less to gamble. I can see that logic, but the implication is that you might as well gamble, which is not necessarily smart financial decision making. Cars are useful tools that almost everyone needs to get to work in a timely manner. Gambling has no comparable benefit in the long run, except maybe for the dopamine rush when you win. – ajsmart Aug 1 at 13:26
  • @ajsmart If cars were mainly used as a means of transport, Mercedes, Ferrari and Porsche would not exist – David Aug 1 at 13:29
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    @ajsmart My point is that I don' see why encouraging someone into betting 20 bucks on their favourite sports team is more unethical than selling them any other random product – David Aug 1 at 13:58
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Most likely your rejection based on ethics will be solely on yourself. If you do bring up that you are against the concept and will not do it, it all depends on what state you live in and if you are a at-will or contract.

Chances are your employer will simply fire you and give you a bad reference. At the next job interview, unless you rejected releasing a world-wide epidemic virus of some sort, they'd have a awful hard time believing you quit based on some ethics.

I recall in college a math doctoral student was working for the government. They'd give him matrices to solve, but never explain what it is used for or if it is correct. Basically he'd solve them, turn them in and never hear about it again. He said ultimately he quit because he simply didn't know what it was for and didn't feel comfortable solving the problems. Sounds interesting but he had trouble convincing folks he quit on those grounds since it sounded so bizarre. Could the story really play out that way? Sure, but his story is so vague and simplified that it just doesn't sound all that profound or convincing.

Ultimately you story will be, "I was asked to build an algorithm that made high-risk, low income gamblers gamble more money and I was against that idea and quit."

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    He's in the Netherlands it's not at-will. – Jack Aidley Jul 29 at 14:21
  • even if the contract allow the manager to fire someone quickly, you should keep in mind that replacing someone is costly (money, resource and time), so if reassign someone in another project is an option, it will be considered. – Kepotx Jul 29 at 14:43
  • @JackAidley there is however the "irreconcilable difference in opinion about company practices and policies" argument that is quite valid to terminate in the Netherlands. This effectively means that the company and employee have such a difference of opinion about the way the company should do its business that there is no going forward in their mutual relationship. That would certainly apply in this case. – jwenting Jul 30 at 6:24
  • @jwenting "irreconcilable difference in opinion about company practices and policies" For working at what appears to be some kind of consultancy company, not wanting to be placed on one project for one client that seems overly harsh. Clearly OP's employer has different clients (OP speaks of this being "one of [their] clients"), and it seems pretty clear that even this client has different projects (as they are not new to OP's employer). Surely there is some other assignment available to OP's employer where OP's skills would be useful, which hopefully aligns better with OP's ethics. – a CVn Jul 30 at 11:37
  • @aCVn it is harsh, but sadly that term is often used to get rid of employees when you have no other reason and more often than not the labour department buys it hook, line, and sinker. – jwenting Jul 31 at 4:23

protected by Mister Positive Jul 30 at 11:43

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