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    Wall Street Journal: On the Web, Children Face Intensive Tracking

    The Wall Street Journal continues its in-depth report, “What They Know,” about the state of surveillance in the United States and how these surveillance programs affect individual privacy. In the latest installment, the Journal looks at marketers’ tracking of children’s online browsing, which can occur through “cookies” (they collect data about and can track users’ Internet searches and sites visited). Its investigation found that “popular children’s websites install more tracking technologies on personal computers than do the top websites aimed at adults.”

    The Journal examined 50 sites popular with U.S. teens and children to see what tracking tools they installed on a test computer. As a group, the sites placed 4,123 “cookies,” “beacons” and other pieces of tracking technology. That is 30% more than were found in an analysis of the 50 most popular U.S. sites overall, which are generally aimed at adults.

    The most prolific site: Snazzyspace.com, which helps teens customize their social-networking pages, installed 248 tracking tools. Its operator described the site as a “hobby” and said the tracking tools come from advertisers. […]

    The tiny tracking tools are used by data-collection companies to follow people as they surf the Internet and to build profiles detailing their online activities, which advertisers and others buy. The profiles don’t include names, but can include age, tastes, hobbies, shopping habits, race, likelihood to post comments and general location, such as city. […]

    Collecting data on minors is regulated, albeit lightly. The only federal restrictions require parental consent to collect names and other personal information of children under 13 in most circumstances. Currently, the Federal Trade Commission is considering whether changes to the law are warranted. No changes are expected before next year. […]

    Parents hoping to let their kids use the Internet, while protecting them from snooping, are in a bind. That’s because many sites put the onus on visitors to figure out how data companies use the information they collect.

    Gaiaonline.com—where teens hang out together in a virtual world—says in its privacy policy that it “cannot control the activities” of other companies that install tracking files on its users’ computers. It suggests that users consult the privacy policies of 11 different companies.

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