Online Privacy: Parents Worry Advertisers Know Too Much

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The Federal Trade Commission recently reprimanded makers of mobile apps targeted at children for failing to provide enough information to parents about the kinds of data being collected. The announcement raises a long-standing concern many parents have about how to keep kids safe online.

A recent study from the Pew Center’s Internet and American Life Project found that 81 percent of surveyed parents with children between 12-17 years-old are concerned about how much information advertisers can learn about their children online. They are also concerned about their children’s online behavior, with 72 percent saying they're concerned about how their child interacts with strangers online, 69 percent saying they're worried about how their child’s online footprint might affect their academic career and 69 percent saying they're worried about online reputations.

“When asked about the information that advertisers can gather about their child’s online behavior, parents’ concern levels rival and sometimes even exceed worries about their child’s interaction with people they do not know online,” the Pew study says. Specifically, African American parents worried about advertisers, with 62 percent saying they were “very concerned” about the information gathered, as compared to 47 percent of white parents.

“Most of the free services available online involve a trade off: In return for being able to access services online for free, information is collected about users to deliver targeted advertising,” the report stated. By law, online sites collecting information about children under the age of 13 must comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act or COPPA.



Despite parents' trepidation about children interacting with strangers online, the fears are not always well-founded. The number of crimes perpetrated against children that were initiated online are few, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center’s report Trends in Arrests of Online Predators. The report found that there have been more arrests of online predators because of better policing and that the nature of crimes against children have not changed even with the advent of social networking sites.

“The risk is very low to most kids, those who don’t actively engage in risky online behavior such as talking about sex with strangers in a variety of places online or exhibit other known risk factors in their offline lives,” wrote Ann Collier, editor of NetFamilyNews, in a recap of useful advice on how to prevent risk to youth online. If parents teach their children safe online behavior, the risks shrink dramatically.

Most teenagers using social networking sites say they do so to connect with friends. And keeping open lines of communication with ones children by staying calm about Internet safety may actually be one of the best ways to make sure they can bring up real concerns if they do arise.