Kids are being bombarded with online ads (sometimes graphic)––in school. Time to STOP online ads to students?

Mar 4, 2019 by

This petition says online ads have no place in school. We agree. Do you?

Cheri Kiesecker –

Students are often presented with distracting, sometimes very inappropriate online ads while using school issued computers and software.  These ads pop up or appear as side-bar recommendations to click here, download this app, watch this video, buy this — all while students are trying to do their online school work.  A group of Missouri educators and parents have had enough.   The group says these ads “are completely unnecessary”. They say the ads have no place in school, no educational value.  They are asking their Missouri state officials to stop all online advertisements to preschool through 12th grade students. Read the petition below and then take a look at a few of the ads students have seen on school issued devices and accounts. Let us know what you think.
(WARNING: some ads are very graphic and not appropriate for children; we’ve blacked out portions.)
The petition.

Stop ALL online advertisements to PreK-12 students

“The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) annual report states,  “Digital technologies used in schools are increasingly being harnessed to amplify corporate marketing and profit-making and extend the reach of commercializing activities into every aspect of students’ school lives.”  Students are increasingly asked to us a computer or device for classwork, homework, research and collaborations with other students online.  This often requires students to download apps or use products like Google / Gsuite, or YouTube.  While online, students are bombarded with ads, promotions, recommendations of sites to click, products to purchase.  In a recent study, it was found that 95% of the most downloaded apps target young children with ads. There is also a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Complaint against YouTube for improperly collecting children’s information.  A coalition of over 20 privacy, consumer, and public health advocacy groups called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the apps targeting young children.
We believe that schools should be places where students can learn, free of distractions from pop-up advertisements. Students should not be subjected to commercials and online ads.  Children are not commodities and schools should not be an online marketplace to target children with inappropriate, unwanted and potentially dangerous ads.
We ask that online advertisements be prohibited to all Missouri PreK-12 school children.  Please sign and join us in sending this request to our Missouri Governor and legislators.”

More screen time, more Ads? 

As mentioned in the petition above, technology products in classrooms have increased significantly in the last 5 years. Many schools have implemented 1:1 devices (a computer, often a Chromebook, issued to every student to use in class and take home for homework).  If schools don’t have 1:1 devices, most offer computer carts (often Chromebooks) that students can log into, often starting in elementary grades.  Instead of text books, schools often require students to do reading, math, much of their curriculum and assessments online (edtech).   Schools sometimes reward children with extra computer time, allow them to play video games on their computers, surf the web, when they finish an assignment.  Some schools allow (even promote) the use of social media (Google Hangouts, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Skype, Pinterest) in middle and high school.  All this screen time in schools gives advertisers ample opportunity and a captive, impressionable audience to market their wares.

The Ads.  

Below are just a few examples of ads (screen shots) that actual k-12 students have seen on school devices and school accounts.

(Be advised: some ads contain graphic content. We have blocked out the most offensive portions. If you find these ads disturbing and uncomfortable, we ask you to imagine a child seeing these ads, unfiltered.)


These two ads were presented to a Missouri student, under the age of 13, while at school,  while using her school issued device.  The student was logged into Gsuite, and had used the Google search engine to do research for a homework assignment. Remember, this is at school and the child did nothing wrong.  She was doing research and had searched for the name of a play; this is what she saw.

These screen shots don’t show it, (you’re welcome), but both of these ads were animated, the bodies were moving.

The ads are obviously inappropriate. Imagine having to explain this to a distraught, very young child who was exposed to these ads.

Fortunately, the child showed these ads to an adult at school.   When the teacher saw the ads, she was horrified and tried the same (innocuous name of a play) search terms on her school computer and got the same results, same ads. The teacher immediately documented the incident and reported it to school administrators and the authorities.

Note how the bouncing cartoon girl ad has a link to presumably see profiles of real girls.  The tinder ad has GPS, to search in your area (potentially letting tinder users know your location?) if the student were to click on it.

The number of children exploited by online sexual predators has risen drastically, with western Missouri leading the nation. Some wonder why.

It is important to note that these ads are not only happening in one classroom, not only happening in Missouri.  Sadly, many students and parents across the country share stories, like this in Colorado, of seeing nudity or inappropriate ads while using school issued computers.  Online ads for vaping,  ads promoting products from insurance, medicine, automobiles, toys, clothing,  candy, and a wide range of apps and video games are seen by students.


Pay for play?

Apparently companies sometimes offer money to schools to use their product’s “curriculum”,  as suggested in the case of Juul. (Juul Offered To Pay Schools As Much As $20,000 To Blame Vaping On Peer Pressure.)  This Juul curriculum appears to be an attempt to work around prohibitions on marketing to children. Juul came under fire in Massachusetts for allegedly marketing to minors;  the FDA is investigating whether Juul target marketed to children. Do you want Juul curriculum in your school, for your child?  What’s next, curriculum sponsored by Google or Facebook ?  …oh wait.

We aren’t sure how or why these ads and recommendations make their way to students’ screens.  Check out this ad for Humira, presented on a young student’s Chromebook, while logged into Gsuite and Canvas at school.  Why would ads for prescription drugs be shown to a student in middle school…

…or to a 9 year old in elementary school?


Millions of Apps are offered in the Google Play Store and school administrators can install or make android apps available to students.  Also, apps themselves are often advertised to students while they are logged into school accounts.

Apps can be concerning because of their content, and some chat apps allow students to connect with strangers outside of school (ie: Google Hangouts, Amino app, Roblox).  Apps are also concerning because of data collection and deceptive advertising.  According to this CBS News report,

“researchers at the University of Michigan spent hundreds of hours playing 135 different games targeting young children, reports CBS News correspondent Anna Werner. They found advertising across the board, not just in video games, but also in apps marketed as educational… Radesky is the senior author of a new study, which looked at more than 100 of the most downloaded apps on Google Play aimed at children five years and under. Researchers found those apps contained a variety of ads including pop-ups, in-app purchases and videos that interrupted play. Some of the ads were classified as “manipulative,” “deceptive,” and “disruptive,” with exposure to ads sometimes even surpassing time spent playing the games.”   [Emphasis added]

An excellent site to check the data permissions of an app (location tracking, device information, sensitive personal information, camera or microphone data etc) is the App Census,  an international project whose mission is “to give app users better transparency into how their mobile apps use and misuse their personally identifying information.”  For instance, the App Census analysis says YouTube shares sensitive data such as location and uses sensitive permissions, requests access to your accounts, your camera, your device, your usage habits, what apps you use, your storage, and can start silently.

App census , YouTube


YouTube is a Google App.  YouTube’s terms of service state that users must be at least 18 years old to use their product, or have parent consent.

“You affirm that you are either more than 18 years of age, or an emancipated minor, or possess legal parental or guardian consent…the Service is not intended for children under 13. If you are under 13 years of age, then please do not use the Service.”  -YouTube Terms of service

Why do schools routinely allow, even require, students to use YouTube when the content or advertisements may be inappropriate and is age restricted to 18 years and older? We wonder, how does YouTube verify parent consent? How many schools gain parent consent before they instruct children to use YouTube?

YouTube Ads.

How about this ad for a sleep aid on YouTube?  This ad for Midnite, like the other ads below, appeared as a YouTube preview (you have to watch the ad before YouTube plays the video you want).  These ads were served to students accessing YouTube while logged into their school Gsuite accounts.  Also, note the recommendations on the right side of the screen.  We wonder what data sharing,  privacy permissions apply to some of these ads or recommended channels if a student were to click on them.

Ironic that the student is logged into Gsuite (a Google product), watching YouTube (a Google product), and is served an ad for a Google product: Google Home Hub.

Since the student is logged into Gsuite with a student ID, and then uses YouTube, if the student were to respond to the ad below for an IQ test, how would this data be used or shared?

Ad recommended to a 9 year old on a school Chromebook

Students need to be better ‘digital citizens’ and ignore the ads?

Some IT folks and administrators will say,  “The web filter just can’t catch everything’.  “That’s the world we live in.”  Maybe the better question:  Should a student see sexual or inappropriate adult ads at school or on a school issued account?  CIPA says no. Should it be on a child’s shoulders to be a good digital citizen and not look at this stuff? How many kids would click on ads out of curiosity ? Once an inappropriate ad appears, you can’t unsee it, damage done.

Is there a way to protect children and avoid these ads getting through the filters?  Yes, yes there isStop serving online ads to children at school.

Many countries are concerned about online ads and marketing to children. In fact, the UK wants to ban ALL advertising to primary students.


Ad selling insurance to a 3rd grader, while logged into Gsuite at school

Should U.S. students be forced to see online ads?

Apparently, companies see advertising to students as an opportunity to build customer loyalty.  Should school be a place for commercials, ads, and products sold to our kids?  Is the purpose of school to “amplify corporate marketing and profit-making and extend the reach of commercializing activities into every aspect of students’ school lives“?

Maybe the Missouri teachers and parents who say that ads serve no educational purpose and distract from learning are on to something.   The Missouri petition says stop online ads to pre-school through 12th grade students.

Maybe it is time to stop online ads to ALL U.S. students. #StopKidsAds

Source: Kids are being bombarded with online ads (sometimes graphic)––in school. Time to STOP online ads to students? – Missouri Education Watchdog

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