Protecting your teen’s privacy from big brands online

Protecting Your Teen’s Privacy From Big Brands Online

Growing up in the shadow of Facebook and Twitter has resulted in your children being privy to breaking news, hot new trends and even politics. Although the connections that come from social networking websites may result in more knowledgeable, well-rounded teenagers, those growing up in this decade are also subject to less privacy protection than ever before. So, protecting your teen’s privacy can be a challenge.

Case in point: Big brands sponsor social networking websites geared at teens in an effort to gain a larger share of the growing teen spending market.

This article will detail how big brands are breaking into social networking to gain access to your teen’s personal data, how these marketing plans can affect your son or daughter’s electronic privacy, and what steps are effective at protecting your teen’s privacy.


Protecting your teen's privacy as they socialize online.

In February 2010 the Pew Research Center reported that more than 93 percent of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 surf online, and this number has risen dramatically over the past decade. Gone are the days when children grew up sheltered from the outside world.

Many kids these days have an online reputation by the time they’re 13 years old. Some children have a presence on the Web by the time they’re one year old, as their parents upload photos to Facebook and create websites dedicated to their children. The world your child is growing up in is extremely connected, and name brands have stood up and are taking notice.

Social networking websites are by far the most popular websites online today. Facebook isn’t geared specifically to teens, yet the 13-to-17-year-old demographic makes up 11 percent of the total user group. Another popular social network for teens, WeeWorld, is a virtual website dedicated to the creation of “WeeMee” avatars. Users can take their WeeMee on quests and export them for use on different websites. Although WeeWorld maintains excellent privacy controls, they allow large companies to market their products and services to the WeeWorld user base. The potential for an invasion of your teen’s electronic privacy is high when he or she participates in brand-sponsored quests or shop in the virtual store for branded merchandise.

To survive in the world of Web 2.0, social networking websites based on a no-user-fee business plan must generate income wherever possible. Because of these no-fee models, teens can give up Internet privacy in order to participate. The large companies that have infiltrated social networks such as WeeWorld include Coca Cola, Rocawear, the NBA and even popular music groups such as the Jonas Brothers. These brands recognize that marketing data is available on these popular websites that can’t be obtained in any other way.

Accurate market research means that companies can better sharpen the focus of their products and come up with more targeted advertising plans. The end result is a bigger profit share of what is a rising teen spending market. By combining product placement with exciting advertisements like scavenger hunts, companies such as Coca Cola stay on the leading edge.


Control your teen’s online privacy.

As a parent, you may feel as though the advertisements geared toward your teen constitute an invasion of their digital privacy. Because these websites and your teen’s interest in them won’t fade away anytime soon, you need to know how to protect your children from breaches of their electronic privacy.

Here are three key ways you can keep your teen’s personal data away from prying eyes:

  • Teach your teen how to set personal privacy controls when browsing the World Wide Web. Although many teens use computers more frequently than their parents do, they may not know how to adjust their Internet browser settings to prevent the download of third-party tracking cookies. Be sure that their privacy controls default to private browsing, and select the box that indicates you don’t wish to receive third-party cookies. Check out this article that details how companies manage and collect personal information while you surf online.
  • Log in to your teen’s account and ensure that it has the recommended Facebook privacy settings. Your teens may feel as though you’re breaching their website privacy, but logging in to their Facebook account can help ease your mind. Ensure that your children follow the recommended Facebook privacy settings, and ask them not to “like” the Facebook pages for any large company. Big brands can gain access to your teen’s profile if he or she chooses to like their product or brand on Facebook.
  • Opt out of social networking websites that allow your child to leave a physical trail. Websites such as are popular because they have the feel of an online game. In order to ensure that you’re providing your teens with the best protection of privacy, don’t allow them to participate on these types of sites. You never know who may be watching your children as they move around and check into locations. Avoiding participation on these sites goes beyond protecting privacy from brands that wish to market their products. By not allowing your child to leave a physical trail online and off, you’re ensuring their personal safety as well.

Your teen may feel as though the Web is just for fun and games, but as an educated parent you know that the electronic trail your child leaves online is valuable to companies around the globe.  Protecting your teen's privacy is an important part of well rounded parenting.


Shelly Wutke is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, BC. Shelly has been published in Vancouver-based Love Magazine, in local newspapers and on various websites.