The Wall Street Journal's excellent What They Know series featured a September 18th piece that "found that popular children's websites install more tracking technologies on personal computers than do the top websites aimed at adults."

The Journal examined 50 sites popular with U.S. teens and children to see what tracking tools they installed on a test computer. As a group, the sites placed 4,123 “cookies,” “beacons” and other pieces of tracking technology. That is 30% more than were found in an analysis of the 50 most popular U.S. sites overall, which are generally aimed at adults.

When the Journal started to question the tracking companies, they started moonwalking as fast as they could. Pick your favorite standard-issue explanation! Trade them with your friends!

• “We are *strongly against* the exposure of children to any adult content.”

• A Google spokesman said its preference lists are “based on anonymous browser activity. We don’t know if it’s one user or four using a particular browser, or who those users are.”

• “We are assured by our service providers that all data gathered is anonymous and compliant with all laws and privacy policies.”

• “We currently are not specifically capturing or promoting any ‘teen’ oriented segments for marketing purposes.”

Yes, and Mel Gibson’s not specifically auditioning West Coast models for girlfriend purposes.

But this, this is Sneak ADtack’s all-time favorite:

Karen Davis, chief executive of, declined to be interviewed, citing concern for her own privacy.

Orwell! Thou shouldst be living at this hour!

[From our Wait . . . For . . . It desk:]

Two days later, the Journal featured this headline:

Cookies’ Cause Bitter Backlash

Nut graf:

Since July, at least six suits have been filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against websites and companies that create advertising technology, accusing them of installing online-tracking tools that are so surreptitious that they essentially hack into users’ machines without their knowledge.

Those lawsuits could be pretty pesky, given that “online tracking has become the foundation of the $23 billion online advertising industry.”

On the other hand, tracking the trackers might become the foundation of the effort to control not the advertising industry’s speech, but its stealth.

Image: Paul /

John R. Carroll is media analyst for NPR's Here & Now and senior news analyst for WBUR in Boston. He also writes at Campaign Outsider and It's Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town.
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