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Digital Advertisers are Harvesting Children’s Online Information to Earn More Profits

by Jane Collen | The Web Writer Spotlight: Jan 5, 2018

Most of our personal information is now stored electronically, and that is enabling cybercrime to thrive. Identity thefts are becoming common in today’s digital world, and children are not exempted from it. While the number of cyber-thefts targeting children is relatively small, with the advent of more personalized and make-believe games the ratio of child identity theft is on the rise.


Child Identity Theft Is on the Rise


According to the Identity Fraud Report 2012, one in every 40 households with children under age 18 in the U.S. had at least one child whose personal information was compromised by identity breachers. Things haven't changed much for the better since then. In fact, cases of child identity thefts seem to be rising.

A federal lawsuit filed in California in August 2107 accused The Walt Disney Company of secretly collecting personal information from some of its youngest customers and illegally sharing that data with advertisers without parents’ consent. The suit revealed that aside from Disney other software companies, including Upsight, Unity, and Kochava, violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, COPPA, by collecting users’ data (including users under the age of 13) to facilitate “commercial exploitation.”

Children and family apps like “Disney Princess Palace Pets” reportedly embed trackers within them that exfiltrate information off from the device upon installation, such as a child’s age and email addresses. Other information like children’s full names, physical locations and instant messenger handles are also obtained and handed to advertisers as part of their online profiles.

The number of popular gaming apps from companies like Disney listed for violating COPPA has grown over the years to 40 plus, and still counting. Some of the immensely popular apps mentioned in violating COPPA include:

  • Where’s My Water? (100 to 500 million installs per the Google Play store)
  • Temple Run: Oz (more than 1 billion times per the Google Play store)
  • Beauty and the Beast (1 to 5 million installs per the Google Play store), and
  • Moana Island Life (1 to 5 million installs per the Google Play store)

Now may be the right time to check on your little ones. Your child could be at risk (or a victim) of child identity theft for purposes of advertising and commercial exploitation via the apps they use.


Be Safe, Steer Clear of Emerging Cyber-Security Threats


The proliferation of the internet means that internet connectivity is as important for smartphone and tablet users as the power battery. Without an internet connection, mobile devices are not so smart. Children are connected 24/7 as they find internet connectivity everywhere be it in schools, hotels, restaurants, libraries and waiting rooms. The more the connectivity, the more likely is the vulnerability of data stored in a child’s favorite devices.

Today, apps are not just apps. They are the primary gateway to the World Wide Web. To monetize the apps, developers many times incorporate ads into their software. Sometimes, the ads or commercials shown are not age appropriate and lack necessary child safeguards. Some app developers also focus solely on the revenue they are receiving from advertisers and aggressively track and monetize individuals.

To protect children from ads that follow them everywhere, and guard against commodification of individuals that can lead to child identity theft, you can use encryption to make your digital footprints hard to trace. This can be easily achieved using a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN makes your online identity anonymous and allows users to connect securely over a less-secure network between your computer and the internet.    

With a VPN, you and your family will be able to safely browse the internet and share data across encrypted channels. And you’ll also be helping curb increasing cases of identity thefts and other cybercrimes and misconducts.

Read Also: Google’s New Literacy Program Is Helping Kids “Be Internet Awesome.”

Related: 10 Books Every Aspiring Entrepreneur Should Read to Thrive in Today's Digital World.


Jane Collen author_0_0.jpgJane Collen is a passionate writer who lives and breathes on the internet. She is a tech-geek and love to explore new opportunities. She is currently dedicated to ReviewsDir. While Jane is not writing or ranting about newest tech industry gossip, you can find her practicing her yoga and photography, making documentaries.



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