US Children Online Survey - Protection or Exploitation?

13 August 2004

A new online tracking project, The Research Monitor, has been launched by US research agency Regulus Communications, purportedly to help allay parental concerns about marketers' use of the internet to collect data about their children.

According to Regulus, an earlier survey established that 81% of participating parents declared themselves 'very concerned' about the growing intrusions into their children's lives via the internet -- especially by companies doing market research.

It was this high degree of parental concern that sparked the new tracking project, to be published quarterly from October onward. It will monitor online research techniques, ranging from panels to mystery shopping.

Another factor emerging from the earlier study is that '67% of parents say they will now consider legal action against companies surveying their kids without written permission; while over 11% have discussed legal action against a sponsor of the research with an attorney'.

The purpose of The Research Monitor, says Regulus is 'to serve as a strategic assessment guide for selecting market research services and methodologies for researching with kids on line; and to keep research sponsors, marketing directors, brand managers, consumer groups, market researchers and parents informed about potentially intrusive market research methodologies'.

Good to know then that at least one section of the market research industry is taking its social responsibilities seriously.

Or might the firm's concern be triggered by the legal uncertainty resulting from the US Supreme Court's ambivalent recent decision in relation to the Child's Online Protection Act.

Or maybe plain, old-fashioned bottom-line aspirations are at the core of it all?

A visit to the Regulas website suggests that a desire to prevent the exploitation of children is not uppemost in the company's mind. Such altrusim is not the impression conveyed by the researcher's home page which proclaims 'Regulus can help corporations and universities connect to kids in the K-12 classroom environment'.

Among the products it peddles to marketers are 'Awareness Programs [to] create awareness of products and programs with classroom projects in the 96,000+ schools in the US'.

There are also 'Association Programs [that] generate positive attitudes and feelings through familiarity and linkages to an enrollment population of 53,000,000+ kids'.

Plus that whiskery old favorite, loyalty programs. These will 'provide value through classroom enhancements for long-term relationships with kids and their families'.

Data sourced from: Daily Research News Online; additional content by WARC staff