How much data do adtech companies collect on kids before they turn 13?

There is a growing realisation that today’s internet is built on legacy technology designed for adults , rather than kids.  Although there has been plenty of coverage about content, there are bigger issues with the technology behind the content. By the time a child turns 13, (adult) advertising tech companies will have collected an astounding 72 million data-points on them, unintentional but increasingly dangerous.  

So how did we get here? First, a quick primer: Adult advertising technology works by collecting as much personal data on the user as possible using pixels, beacons, cookies and other trackers, then using that information to choose the most relevant personalized ad.

Historically, kid and family publishers had limited options for monetization. As such, a common approach was plugging in a bunch of adult ad networks and monitoring them for anything obviously inappropriate. Unfortunately, if a device belonging to a parent was being used by their child (shared device access is close to 100% in most homes), it was quite common for adult-profile ads to appear in kids’ content, as the ad technology was looking at the user, not the content.

As children increasingly moved to their own devices they were no longer seeing their parents’ ads. But behind the scenes, the same adult ad technology was still capturing a vast amount of data on the child.

The ad itself isn’t the issue. The danger is the tracking code embedded in the ad. Trackers sit behind adult ads silently (and invisibly) collecting data on users’ every move as they navigate the web. A typical online ad comes with at least 15 trackers. They’re used to build a comprehensive profile of you as a person (where you live, how many devices you have, what content you’re consuming) and your behaviour (what you like or dislike, how you’re likely to react to certain content, or what you’re more inclined to buy and when). And this data is not just used by one advertiser, it’s shared with many, many other DSPs and DMPs.

Imagine for a moment a trench coat-clad stranger shadowing your child around the playground, taking notes on their whereabouts and behavior, then following them home to resume the snooping. That’s exactly what adult advertising technology is currently doing with your kids.

Now, you’re probably thinking that it’s inappropriate to collect this type of information on children. And you’re correct. There are specific laws in the US and the EU that forbid it, namely COPPA and the kids section of GDPR (GDPR-K). But this data collection is still happening because many publishers have yet to switch to zero-data kidtech solutions for their family content, and are still using adult adtech behind the scenes to deliver ads.

By the time they turn 13, adult adtech companies have collected over 72 MILLION data-points on your child. This is almost certainly undercounting as it excludes the trackers which are used by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and any other social widgets (embedded into sites and apps). That works out as 12,000 pieces of data collected every hour a child spends online.*

To some this might sound terrifying but the news is not all bad. The new wave of privacy-based kidtech companies are gradually replacing the legacy digital media infrastructure with new zero-data solutions which are truly designed for kids. Based on our estimates, our technology now ensures that approximately 10% of all under-13 online ads in the west are now guaranteed zero-data.

*How we compiled this information

Our REX platform is part of this emerging kidtech space (it filters out trackers to ensure no data is ever collected by an ad delivered on kids content). It’s now been live for almost 12 months so we have a unique perspective on just how much data adtech companies are collecting on kids.

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