momlogic's Vivian: We grownups are well aware of how some online advertisers try to pull off the old bait-and-switch, or entice us into sharing personal information that could eventually be used against us. The Children's Advertising Review Unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CARU) was established in 1974 by the ad industry to promote responsible national advertising to children and to respond to public concerns. Their core objective is to make sure all child-directed advertising -- in all media -- isn't misleading, inaccurate or inconsistent with its guidelines, through the voluntary cooperation of advertisers.
To raise awareness of their presence as a resource, CARU just launched a series of public service announcements (featuring "7th Heaven" mom Catherine Hicks) that ask parents, "Do you know where your children are ... on the Internet?"
"The campaign was created with a twofold purpose in mind," says CARU director Wayne J. Keeley. "First, as an awareness vehicle for parents to think about where their children may be surfing, and second, to direct them to CARU for more information about Internet safety."
Keeley says the campaign was partly inspired by his own three children. "Children's Internet safety is probably one of the biggest growing issues today," he notes. "I'll tell you: It's quite a job to try and figure out where my 9-year-old daughter is on the Internet! I put these parental controls on, and yet every five seconds she was asking why she couldn't go here or there. I had to loosen the controls, but that sometimes leads to questionable sites where personally identifiable information [is] asked for."
Of the campaign, CARU's assistant director, Phyllis Spaeth, says, "The overarching message is to alert parents to be aware of where their kids are on the Internet, but parents can use our website as a resource to get safety information, voice concerns or make complaints, because we're the self-regulatory arm of the advertising industry and we're there to help advertisers do the right thing by children."
Spaeth says that kids can easily find themselves in over their heads online because they aren't yet equipped to see through elaborate come-on jobs. "Because of their immaturity and lack of cognitive skills, children don't even realize they are being advertised to," says Spaeth. "The main concern is that companies will ask for personal identifiable information without first getting parental consent."
To help figure out where your kids are on the Internet, Keeley and Spaeth shared these tips:
Look Over Their Shoulder
Explain how Internet advertising works, and spend some time cruising the same sites your kid does. "You may say, 'Who has the time to do that?'" says Spaeth. "All the federal laws and guidelines in the world won't do the trick in protecting kids unless the parents are really involved."
Check Out Personal Info Requests
Many websites ask kids to register, and that means forking over some personal info. To ensure safety, Spaeth says parents should carefully read site privacy policies: "Once you give out information on the Internet it's there forever," she says. "And that's a safety concern because what's considered personal identifiable information allows a child to be contacted online or offline. If you care about your children, you want to make sure they aren't sharing information where they can be contacted unless you approve of and trust the site."
Join Their Networks
Facebook aside, the Internet is crawling with social networking sites, and Spaeth says the only way to know what really goes on is to go there yourself. "It's very important that parents get their own account and see what really happens there," she says. "You want to know who your kids hang out with, don't you? You've got to know who your kids are hanging out with online as well."