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Prioritizing Children's Privacy: Strategies for Ethical Advertising and the Use of AI


February 28, 2024


It’s an understatement to say that children’s and teens’ safety online is a hot topic right now. Regulators and lawmakers are actively working on updates to existing regulations meant to protect kids, congressional hearings are spotlighting the dangers of social media, and there is a growing body of research documenting psychological harms to kids from excessive exposure to advertising.

As someone who spent a large part of my career in publisher ad operations, I can speak to the fact that publishers are acutely aware of the delicate balance between ad revenue and user experience. While advertising is a key revenue stream, it can’t be run at the expense of compromising consumer safety and trust, especially when the people browsing the site could be young and vulnerable.

Ethics & Advertising

Most publishers who serve kids in particular, such as education and gaming sites, go above and beyond to make sure they are protecting the interests of their users by tightly controlling the types of ads and the locations of the ads serving on their site. The best are motivated not just by the awareness of scrutiny by regulators, but also by high ethical standards and a commitment to best practices in advertising.

Many publishers of more general interest content, such as lifestyle, health and wellness, and sports sites, also take proactive steps to protect their users, such as using the security service Ad Lightning from Boltive to control the quality of the ads serving on their sites and to ensure that their ads are free of malware. As the awareness of harms to older kids and teens develops, and as scrutiny of advertising practices around teens expands all the way up to 17 in some states, many publishers would do well to consider – from an ethical standpoint, if not a legal standpoint – whether there might be more they can do to protect users from unsavory or otherwise inappropriate content. 

Boltive’s AI Engine Helps Publishers Enforce Security, Quality, & Privacy in Ads

The site where I spent the largest portion of my adops career was a place where people would come to answer questions about their health and their parenting decisions that they couldn’t ask their doctors, families, and friends face to face. Consumer trust was paramount. And we were aware that certain types of ads served to people – including adults – in a vulnerable mental or physical health state could cause real harm. So, even though we weren’t required to by law, we enforced strict rules on what types of ads were allowed to run, and where. 

Ad Lightning was a key part of how my team automated the enforcement of those rules. When I joined the Boltive team a few years ago, I was fascinated to see the inner workings of a tool that had transformed my team’s job, moving us from reactive to proactive, and freeing up our time for more interesting, strategic work. And I have been excited to see the development of the Boltive AI Engine, and see it deployed to supercharge Ad Lightning.

As we discussed in our previous blog post, Ad Security Reimagined: Exploring Boltive's Artificial Intelligence Techniques, publishers are already reaping the benefits of our AI Engine for both quality and security in Ad Lightning. For publishers wanting to do more to protect kids and teens on their sites, our AI Engine can be transformational, allowing them to more specifically define what is unwanted ad content and block it on the fly, without overblocking acceptable ads, at the expense of lost revenue.

Further, Boltive’s AI Engine is also now powering Privacy Guard, helping publishers understand to a much greater degree what kind of data collection is happening in the ads rendering on their site, identify the culprits, and then automate the blocking of those unauthorized data collectors on the fly, as well.

Publishers as Guardians

Publishers are not just passive participants in the advertising ecosystem, they are guardians of people’s online experiences, especially when it comes to kids and teens. By embracing a proactive stance towards user protection and ethical advertising – using state of the art technology to make it easy to do the right thing – publishers are not only doing the right thing but also laying the foundation for a more trustworthy and sustainable open web for generations to come.

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