Marketing Brand Safety Mental Health

Regulator warns age-based targeting won’t stop vulnerable kids seeing your online ads


By Hannah Bowler | Senior Reporter

November 29, 2022 | 4 min read

A worrying 1.6 million children have falsely registered on social media and other websites as over 18, leaving them exposed to age-restricted ads. Advertisers urgently need to find new methods of stopping their ads from being served to kids.

ASA 100 Children Report

The ASA’s 100 Children Report has some worrying findings / Pexels

In a bid to uncover how children are being exposed to age-restricted ads online, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) surveyed 1,000 11-17-year-olds and monitored the digital devices of a further 97.

The 100 Children Report discovered that over 3.6 million children had misreported their age when they signed up for social media accounts and 1.6 million of those had registered as 18 or older. The watchdog came to this figure after 24% of the 1,000 surveyed admitted registering with false details, and 11% claimed to be 18 or over.

The accounts with faked ages were exposed to almost two-thirds more age-restricted ads than children registered as 17 or younger. Guy Parker, the ASA and CAP director, says it’s “vital” for advertisers to do better to protect young people online. He says advertisers need to “consider their choice of media, use multiple, layered data to target their ads away from young people and monitor the performance of their campaigns.”

“Targeting solely on the basis of age data is unlikely to be enough,” he warned.

In one week of monitoring the paneled devices, 435 age-restricted ads were served, which is 3.8% of the 11,424 total served. Of those a whopping 269 gambling ads were served by 24 advertisers to 41 children; 86 alcohol promotions were seen by 19 children by 44 advertisers; and 74 high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) ads were served by 21 advertisers to 21 children. A further six children were served cosmetic or weight-loss surgery ads.

Of the 11,424 ads, 73 were found to break the ASA’s targeting rules. While ads that breached the ASA’s targeting regulation only made up 0.6% of all ads served within a week, this does represent 30 rule-breaking advertisers and 10 children who were exposed to harmful advertising.

The accounts that had falsely registered as 18 or over had witnessed 261 age-restricted ads served by 65 advertisers. Since the fault lies with the account holder falsifying their age and not the advertiser serving the ad, the ASA would not find these breaches of its targeting rules.

Other report findings:

  • 93% of young people aged 11-17 say they have an account with Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitch, Twitter and/or YouTube

  • 94% of those who access social media do so through devices only they use

  • Children are increasingly setting up accounts at an earlier age; 67% of accounts held by 11-12 year-olds (younger than the minimum age of registration) were set up between school Years 1 and 7, whereas only 21% of the accounts held by 13-17-year-olds were set up in that period

  • 75% of accounts were set up by a child without a parent/guardian

The 100 Children Report was commissioned as part of the ASA’s long-term strategy to have more impact online. The research sits alongside the ASA’s monitoring of exposure to age-restricted TV ads.

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