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Teenagers are being bombarded with over 400 ads an hour on Instagram, new research has found as the scale of online tracking is laid bare.
A study by the New Economics Foundation think tank and the charity Global Action Plan estimates that British children’s data is being sold to advertisers around 820 million times a day as they browse the web.
The findings have prompted the organisations to call for a ban on default ad tracking online to protect children from having their private information harvested and potentially misused on an industrial scale.
The report – called I-Spy – looked at how children are being tracked across the internet using web cookies that funnel information about them and what they are looking at to agencies, which then sell it to advertisers.
It described the practice as "legally dubious" when it comes to children under UK law, but pointed out legislation such as GDPR was written before targeting advertising developed into its current sophisticated state.
Current data law says companies cannot harvest children’s information to track them without a parent or guardian’s consent.
However, the report argued that children are often clicking on GDPR consent popups on websites themselves with no real understanding that they are allowing their behavior to be monitored.
The foundation and Global Action Plan are calling for ad tracking to become regulated under the Duty of Care bill for which The Telegraph has campaigned so it is made an opt-in system as opposed to the current model under which users have to opt-out via GDPR settings when they visit websites.
As well as having their personal data siphoned at unprecedented levels, children are increasingly being saturated with online ads, the report found.
Global Action Plan discovered that teengers reported seeing an advert on Instagram every 10 seconds, which equates to 420 ads an hour. Based on the average time 14-year-olds spend on Instagram, the charity calculated they are seeing around 1,260 a day – up to 20 times as many as they would traditionally see on television.
Duncan McCann, senior researcher at the New Economics Foundation, said: "The Government needs to stop the internet from spying on our kids in order to track and advertise to them. The only winners of the surveillance advertising system are the ad tech companies themselves. These companies profit at the expense of children, wider society and even online publishers."