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Kids can't tell ads from the truth online

Day after day, parents work with their kids to teach them the difference between lies and the truth. But there are some things parents can't control. In a digital world, kids are exposed to media everywhere they go, and a recent study revealed the effect that's having.

Ofcom, a company that regulates TV and radio sectors in the United Kingdom, conducted a survey that found Internet ads are confusing kids. According to the survey, 69% of kids between ages 12 and 15 can't tell the difference between a Google search ad and an organic search result.

The study didn't stop there. Overall, it analyzed kids between ages 3 and 15 to gain insight to their attitudes and understanding of media use. It also evaluated how parents feel about their kids' use of media, and how they choose to monitor it.

Based on the results, Ofcom claims Google is not doing enough to distinguish sponsored ads and organic search results. Only 16% of kids ages 8 to 11 could tell if they were seeing an ad or a search query result. And considering how eager children are to believe what they see, this statistic is alarming parents.

Additional findings of the study include the following insights:

  • 50% of search engine users ages 12 to 15 believe some sites returned will be truthful while others won't be
  • 19% believe that if a search engine lists information then it must be true
  • 22% don’t consider the authenticity of results but just visit the sites they found attractive

Growing use of the Internet among kids also contributes to the concern. When asked how many websites they visit weekly, 63% of kids ages 8 to 11 said they only use sites or apps they visited in the past, compared with the 41% from the previous year.

This is highly influenced by the fact that 4 out of 10 kids between ages 5 to 15 have some type of mobile device of their own, which they use for Internet browsing. Beyond that, the study revealed that more children are watching media through online formats, and not just a television set.

What more can Google do? Sponsored ads already appear in the search results with an orange box and the word "Ad," or "Sponsored," next to it. Do you think they're doing enough to distinguish sponsored ads? Let us know in the comments.

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