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Teens Can't Tell the Difference Between Google Ads and Search Results

Jim Liebelt | Senior Writer, Editor and Researcher for the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University | Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Teens Can't Tell the Difference Between Google Ads and Search Results

*The following is excerpted from an online article from The Verge.

The familiar narrative of teens and technology is one of natural proficiency — that young people just get technology in a way that older generations don't. But research suggests that just because children feel at home using smartphones, it doesn't mean they're more aware of the nuances of how the web works. In a new report published by the UK's telecoms watchdog Ofcom, researchers found that only a third of young people aged 12 to 15 knew which search results on Google were advertisements, while this figure was even lower — less than one in five — for children aged 8 to 11.

"The internet allows children to learn, discover different points of view and stay connected with friends and family," Ofcom's director of research, James Thickett, told the Financial Times. "But these digital natives still need help to develop the knowhow they need to navigate the online world."

In the tests carried out by Ofcom earlier this year, children were shown screenshots of Google search results for the term "trainers" and asked whether the results at the top of the page were either a) ads, b) the most relevant results, or c) the most popular results. Despite the fact that these topmost search results were outlined in an orange box and labelled with the word "Ad," they were only recognized as such by 31 percent of 12- to 15-year-olds and 16 percent of 8- to 11-year-olds.

Other tests showed that one in five 12- to 15-year-olds (19 percent) believed that if a search engine listed particular information then it must be true, while just under half of children (46 percent) could say for sure that Google itself was funded by ads.

This lack of awareness of the role of advertisers in the web's ecosystem was also noticeable when it came to young people and YouTube. Ofcom's researchers found that for the first time since they had conducted the annual survey, more 12 to 15-year-olds said they preferred watching YouTube over traditional TV than the other way round. Additional, more than half (53 percent) of those surveyed in this same age group were unaware that vloggers might be paid to endorse certain products.

Source: The Verge