Back-to-School Digital Reading #5: Your Child’s Privacy

Privacy is important for adults and children. Now an investigation has found that children who use well-known web sites are opening the door for small information-collecting programs called trackers to be installed on their computers.

In a September 17, 2010 article, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on its investigation into tracking technologies that are widely used by popular websites visited by children and adolescents. The article, On the Web Children Face Intensive Tracking, explains how investigators examined 50 popular children’s Internet sites to find out how much tracking occurs. They found that these sites install large numbers of tracking programs on personal computers without the knowledge of children and their parents.

WSJ reporter Steve Stecklow writes that some of the tracking tools “… are used by data-collection companies to follow people as they surf the Internet and and to build profiles detailing their online activities.”  Accumulated, stripped-of-identifying information can be sold to advertisers.

In a related WSJ blog posting, How to Protect Your Child’s Privacy, reporter Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, provides additional information, links to help parents make their Internet browsers more secure, and suggestions for parents about how to talk about privacy with children. A link on this page takes readers to an amazing exposure calculator that compares and contrasts a computer’s exposure at each of the websites. The statistics are engaging.

While I thought I my privacy settings are fairly secure on my home and work computers, reading this article I discovered that I need to examine settings on Adobe Flash — a program that is on just about every computer.

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