The report warns that parents struggle to be “effective gatekeepers” of their children’s online lives, with many assuming that their children are savvy enough to ignore marketing messages. The shift to using social media on mobile screens means that parents are now even less likely to know when their children are being exposed to certain types of ads.
Mimi Tatlow-Golden, lecturer in developmental psychology and childhood at the Open University, told the launch that it was not a “fair fight” between regulators and social media companies.
“This is a David and Goliath situation,” she said. “We know almost nothing and the people who are running the systems know everything. The consent concept is a fiction – we’re talking about wholesale, non-consensual data extraction from children,” she said.
In the UK the Advertising Standards Authority introduced new regulations banning advertising of junk food when children make up 25 per cent or more of the audience. The rules, which came into force last summer, encompass all types of media.
But advertisers can get around these regulations, said Dr Tatlow-Golden.
“It’s easy for them to say we’re not targeting children – we’re just sending messages to people who like Ariana Grande [a singer with a huge following among children and teenagers],” she said.