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.