Teens’ Online Privacy Must Be Protected

Most students have seen sponsored content before — it’s present in almost every corner of the internet. Whether it takes the form of a banner ad or a post by an influencer, it’s becoming harder and harder to understand what is or isn’t an ad, and how our data is used. It’s time to rethink our internet privacy and put new regulations in place to make sure students know when and how they’re being tracked.

The main issue with internet advertising is how it’s priced and who pays. Because companies like Google price ads per click, as opposed to per view, they’re motivated to serve ads that are as relevant as possible to their users. This means that companies are increasingly motivated to track users. While users can take measures to increase their privacy, the reality is that most Americans don’t take their online privacy seriously.

America is in a privacy crisis, and the effects are most serious for young adults and children. According to the Associated Press and the National Opinion Research Center (APNORC), 76 percent of teenagers between ages 13 and 17 use Instagram — which is owned by Facebook, a company that spends a majority of its $390 million advertising budget targeting teens. Since young adults are such a big part of the advertising market, companies use sponsored content, influencers, and other marketing tactics to specifically target this group.

While advertising is a large part of why we don’t have much privacy online, it’s far from the only reason. During the 2020-21 school year, Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) installed GoGuardian parental monitoring software on school (and personal) computers. While the district did notify students regarding the change, many are still unclear on what teachers — and GoGuardian — can and can’t see.

What’s the fix? First, the district should reserve class time for education surrounding internet safety, instead of blanket-monitoring activity on Chromebooks. This would not only allow students to be safer on school computers, but would also help them understand which content is actually an advertisement, leading to better internet habits. The district should also allow students to install extensions like ad-blockers, as they are proven to increase security and privacy online. Additionally, companies and advertisers must have stronger regulations for labeling advertisements. Influencers should use invideo popups or labels when speaking about a sponsored product, and ads should be clearly labeled with language such as “ad” or “advertisement,” instead of “promoted post” or “sponsored content.”

As more of the world moves online, the risks of using the internet grow, along with the need for education and regulation.