To help kids avoid the many traps and pitfalls set up by online marketers, parents and teachers need to become more informed about online marketing techniques and privacy issues – and then pass the information on to kids. In particular, adults should teach kids to:
Kids need to be educated about online marketing, and how to recognize when they're being sold to. Teach them that while commercial sites may be fun to visit, they exist to make money. The contests, quizzes and surveys are there for a reason: to collect personal information from kids, and to use it to create marketing strategies to reach other kids.
Children should always check with an adult before submitting any personal information online. If they absolutely must give out an email address to participate in a commercial website, a "dummy" Hotmail account can be created for them.
Branded commercial sites for kids are easy to spot. They're associated with a specific company or brand, and feature products and characters produced and trademarked by the company. Their purpose is to build brand loyalty, to sell products, and to use the information they get from visitors to develop their marketing strategies.
Non-branded commercial sites aren't as obvious, since they don't appear to be affiliated with a specific company or brand. They may feature the products of a number of different companies, or no product at all. Their chief purpose is to conduct surveys and research for the purpose of gathering personal information about the children who visit their site – either for the sole benefit of their site partners, or to sell to other interested third parties.
Before allowing a child to participate in an online game or join a virtual world, adults need to read the Terms or User Agreement to find out exactly what's free and what isn't before getting too far into the site. Parents who let their children play games that permit upgrades for a fee should be careful to ensure that they don’t make purchases on their own: in one recent case a child was able to spend nearly a hundred dollars on one iPad game because the device had retained his father’s credit card information.
A responsible site for kids should:
Free filtering software can be downloaded from the Internet. These programs block ads on websites; however, they're not effective on sites where advertising is presented as content.
Another useful kind of software is one that filters outgoing information, and prevents children from giving out any personal information online. Parents can program the software with children's names, addresses and telephone numbers, so that if they try to send this information online it will merely show up as a row of asterisks or xs.
Children and even teens may have a hard time distinguishing programming and advertising, and branded websites take advantage of this by blurring the distinction. To counter this, adults need to teach children to:
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