It’s no mystery why advertisers target kids. Kids play a huge role in influencing how families spend money, especially at grocery and toy stores. For decades, Saturday morning cartoon shows were saturated with commercials for sugary cereals and action toys. With children and teens going online to play games, research homework, and communicate with friends, among other things, websites are increasingly tracking their online activities.
An eye-opening story in the Wall Street Journal documents just how pervasive this is. According the WSJ analysis, the top 50 U.S. sites for kids use 30% more tracking technology than the top 50 sites overall. Data is collected using cookies, then sold to marketers. While the data doesn’t identify the child by name, it does include “age, tastes, hobbies, shopping habits, race, likelihood to post comments and general location, such as city.” Under U.S. law the bartering of this information is perfectly legal.
If you are a parent, should you be concerned? While it’s creepy to have information secretly collected about anyone, children are especially vulnerable. Yet as the expression goes, there’s no free lunch. Free sites rely on advertising to pay the bills, so you have to expect to give up some personal information as part of the bargain.
Periodically check the web browser’s History file to see which sites your child frequents. Then visit the sites and research what information they collect and what they do with it.
While these steps won’t stop data collection, it can limit it. And at the very least, you will have done your due diligence to protect your child.
In May I wrote about a site that shows the number of requests made to Google by various government agencies that either want content removed or want more information about it. Google has now released a Transparency Report with figures for the first six months of 2010.
The interactive world map lists governments that made requests, along with corresponding data. Click a country for details as to the specific nature of the request.
The largest number of requests (4,287) came from the U.S., with 128 subsequent removals. Next is Brazil with 2,435 request, with 398 removals. According to Google, most of the activity in Brazil concerns orkut, Google’s social networking service that’s very popular among young Brazilians.
Perhaps more useful is Google’s traffic tool. Many governments block access to Google services, the classic example being China. The traffic tool gives an indication whether an interruption of services is caused by technical issues, such as a malfunctioning server, or by government action.
If sunlight is the best disinfectant, than Google’s data on government requests puts bureaucrats on notice that their actions are on the public record. Whether this curtails their attempts at censorship remains to be seen.