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Study: Kids Spill The Beans On Web

Big Brother is watching you — through your kids. CBS News Correspondent Howard Arenstein reports if your kids spend a lot of time surfing the Web, businesses may know more about you than you think.

"On the web all the time companies are constantly collecting information about us, and teenagers are treated like adults on the Web," Joseph Turow of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania told CBS Radio News.

The School's Public Policy Center studied what kids would do if they were offered a gift by a Web page in exchange for information you might consider private.

The answer? To get a gift, more than a third of the children said they would share the amount of their allowance, their weekend activities, the type of cars the family owns and whether their parents discussed politics.

"If you say they'll get free this and free that, then they'll end wanting to give out that information and it's somewhat unfair," said Turow. "We don't think teenagers should be treated quite like adults."

CBS News Correspondent
Howard Arenstein

Internet marketing is getting very sophisticated, keeping track of all sorts of personal information, added Turow, such as "whether parents drink wine, what their religious practices are, what favorite stores they go to. We found that kids, particularly older kids, were more willing to give out information than the parents, much more willing."

Turow said many parents just don't know enough about the Internet.

"They can, with a whole lot of new technologies, actually create a composite picture of you and your whole lifestyle that you have no idea that they are creating or what it says," he warned.

It seems older children are most at risk.

"Sixty-one percent of parents say they are more concerned about 13- to 17-year-olds." Turow said. You'd think teens would know better, but "kids 13 and older know more to give out."

Turow said parents should surf with their kids so they know what they shouldn't be revealing and governments should pass laws against enticing kids with free gifts in exchange for private information.

In April, government agents began enforcing the 1998 Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal ban on collecting personal information from children without a parent's permission. Lawmakers enacted the ban after federal officials found companies asking children all kinds of questions while they played video games online or researched homework. Just one percent asked for parental pemission. The ban covers information that could identify a particular child.

However, the new rules only apply to children younger than 13, and older teens are much more likely to volunteer personal information on the Web. The study found 39 percent of children ages 13 to 17 admitted giving Web sites personal information, compared with 16 percent of those between 10 and 12.

The survey also found:

  • More than a third of youths and two of every five parents said they experienced tensions at home over children releasing information on the Internet.
  • Almost half of parents are unaware that Web sites gather information on users without their knowledge.
  • Of the parents with home Internet connections interviewed, the majority were white, married, employed and had some college education.

Researchers conducted the telephone interviews of 1,001 parents and 304 10- to 17-year-old children between Jan. 13 and Feb. 17. The survey of parents, who had children ages 8 to 17 and home Internet connections, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The survey of children, who were interviewed with their parents' permission, has an error margin of plus or minus 6 percentage points.

©2000 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report

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