Spyware Warning: Web Trackers Are Spying on our Children on the Internet

Children and Internet?  Almost all parents are concerned about the dangers such as violence, bullying, and pornography on the web.  Safe alternatives suggest offers explicitly aimed at the young target audience, such as child-friendly sites for entertainment and educational sites.  Nobody expects anything terrible on these colorful, seemingly harmless pages.  But appearances are deceptive, as an eBlocker study from January 2018 shows – you can’t be sure all aspects of child protection are covered here!

Pages Actually Log Children’s Surfing Behavior

Many Internet sites spy on kids mercilessly and then bombard them with tempting advertising and influence.  For example, the self-proclaimed German knowledge portal for children and young people promises educational and journalistically high-quality content, while it still may offer great content it stills has some funny business running behind the scenes.  In fact, hidden on the one site unexpected dangers in the form of 35 web trackers were running.  Sometimes our children are even tracked across several websites!  Monitored advertising and like buttons also help to ensure that site visitors’ browsing is accurately logged.  Using a variety of individual characteristics advertising companies can clearly identify the children and gain accurate personality profiles.  So even if the content appears safe, your kids are not indeed protected.

Up to 85 Data Collectors Per Page

The site operators log all articles read, videos viewed and games played. Soon they know precisely whom they are dealing with: age, gender, preferences, learning progress, state of development – the surfing child inevitably leaves behind their “personal business card”.  Also, things like financial background, possible learning difficulties or social problems can become completely transparent.  The data collected often end up on other servers with weak privacy policies.

The eBlocker investigation of German child-oriented sites shows these are not isolated cases.  Nine of their twelve examined children’s pages sniff out their little visitors, and the source code analysis of the respective start pages was provided by the eBlocker experts (as of 01/09/2018).  One of the sites had 85 trackers, others not so far behind, so much for their child protection.

Child protection on the Internet: Positive Examples

Particularly tricky on half of the tested websites, trackers are used by ad networks like doubleclick.net, which belongs to the Google Group.  This not only enables the website operator, but also third parties – namely the advertising network operator – to gain comprehensive insights into the surfing behavior of young visitors.

As you can see from this chart, there are also positive examples of child protection on the Internet.  The sites listed here klick-tipps.net and bliner-kuh.de showed no trackers, and therefore they do not create personality profiles.

Graphic: Number of tracker and tracking advertisers on the twelve most popular German children websites, determined via source code analysis of the respective home pages on the 09th January 2018

Dangers On The Internet: Often Not Easily Recognizable For Children

Study of the surfing behavior on questionable advertising offers in the form of personalized advertising has shown some alarming consequences.  Children and adolescents are very responsive to these personalized ads – they are curious, innocent and often want to know what’s behind the ads.  Moreover, they do not recognize many forms of advertising as advertising.  Companies succeed in influencing the behavior of children in a targeted offers, pushing them to buy specific products.  Other dangers lurk under the covers: behind colorful banners ads can hide scammers.  Raffles are used solely for collecting personal data; free offers turn out to be fake and just steal the visitor’s data and leave them with no real reward for their registration.

Advertising companies can cash in on the data collected via websites if they resell personality profiles at a high price.  But do parents really want profit-oriented companies to know everything about their children? No.

Lack of Child Protection on the Internet is Unfortunately Legal in Many Countries

The shocking truth is that these practices are by no means forbidden worldwide, and they work on any Internet-enabled device from the computer to the game console to the tablet.  Personality profiles of children and adolescents, as well as any other internet user, can then be used commercially.

From the perspective of anti-tracking expert and initiator of the study, Christian Bennefeld said that this is a scandal.  His appeal in matters of child safety: “Parents need not only to check what the children do with the Internet.  But also what the Internet is doing with their children.” In the US, the tracking of online activities of children under the age of 13 has been banned since 2013.  Unfortunately, the data snoopers still seem to enjoy free rein on many of our websites, even those for children.

Blocking Trackers and Protects Your Family

Anyone who actually wants to block tracking on every Internet-compatible device in the household faces an almost impossible mammoth task.  Plug-ins or VPN programs, for example, do not work on smart TVs, game consoles or IoT devices (IoT = Internet of Things) and their too complicated for your younger kids to use.  The eBlocker makes it much easier.

Connected to the home network, the little box anonymizes the online behavior of your family on all Internet-enabled devices in the system.  In addition to the computer, it also protects tablets, smart TVs, game consoles and IoT devices, for which there are hardly any other options for privacy protection. 

In addition, the eBlocker reliably blocks all trackers and data-collecting advertising.  Thanks to this combination, the eBlocker offers protection for the whole family – without software installation.

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