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Spot the sponsored content

Can you trust a targeted ad? Learn about online advertising and see if you can work out what’s reliable.

You will need

  • Pens or pencils
  • Scrap paper

Before you begin

  • Make sure you’ve risk assessed your meeting, and also have a COVID-19 safe risk assessment that’s been agreed by your line manager. You can check out more detailed guidance here
  • Check out some more resources and activities for Safer Internet Day 2021 on the UK Safer Internet Centre website.

Safety checklist

Use the Safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Additional coronavirus-related controls to think about may include:

  • Set up a handwashing station that you can use throughout the session.
  • Remind everyone to stay at a safe distance in their pairs.
  • Make sure you’ve got enough pens and paper so people don’t have to share, and think about how you’ll hand it out to minimise contact.

Talk about targeted advertising

  1. Explain that in this activity, everyone will guess the famous person (or fictional character) their partner’s thinking of, based on a profile made up of their online activity. Afterwards, they’ll work together to create an advert targeted to the profile.
  2. The person leading the activity should ask if anyone knows what targeted advertising is. They should explain that a lot of online adverts are shown to people based on both their online activity and their identity, for example, their gender, age, location or ethnicity.
  1. The person leading the activity should ask if anyone has seen or noticed targeted adverts before. If they have, what have they seen and where have they seen them?
  1. The person leading the activity should explain that many websites collect personal data and build up a profile of people’s online activity that can be used to target adverts to them.

Build your profiles

  1. Everyone should get into pairs. Each pair should stand next to each other, making sure to stay a safe distance apart. Everyone should get a pen and some scrap paper to make notes.
  2. Each person should choose a character or famous person to play in the game. They shouldn’t tell anyone else who they’re thinking of – they should make sure they keep it a secret from their partner.
  1. When everyone’s thought of a character, the person leading the activity should ask a series of questions.
  1. Everyone should take it in turns to answer in character. They should note down how their partner answers so they can start building a profile of their partner’s character.
  1. After a few questions, everyone should use the notes and information they’ve collected to try to work out who their partner’s character is.
  2. The person leading the activity should continue to ask questions until everyone’s managed to work out their partner’s character.
  1. Once everyone’s completed their profiles and worked out who the characters are, they should think about the different bits of information they learned about each other. Was it easy or difficult to figure out who people had chosen?
  2. Everyone should chat about the different questions they were asked. Which bits of information do they think that websites could find out about them while they’re online? How might they find that information?
  3. Everyone should talk about how they feel about companies knowing this information about them. Does knowing things like their location, gender or age give an accurate picture of who they really are? Everyone should take it in turns to share some of their thoughts with the group.


Create your ads

  1. Each pair should choose one of the profiles from the first part of the activity.
  2. Each pair should work together to create some personalised adverts for the person they profiled.
  1. When everyone’s made a few adverts, pairs should take it in turns to present their ads to the rest of the group. They should explain how they built information into the targeted advert.
  2. After people have presented their ad, the rest of the group should try to guess who the character is.
  3. Everyone should finish the session by chatting about the pros and cons of targeted adverts.


Everyone should think about whether personalised adverts are a good or bad thing. Do they think it’s a bonus that they only see ads for things they’re interested in? Why might it be not so good? If targeted adverts were banned, people might see fewer adverts for things they like, but they might also see some things they wouldn’t have before (for example, jobs or other opportunities). Sometimes targeted advertising can discriminate against groups of people unintentionally, for example, if job or housing ads are shown on the basis of gender or ethnicity. If there were no targeted ads, there would probably be less content and people might have to pay for some social media sites as companies like Google and Facebook (including sites like Instagram and YouTube) can make up to 90% of their revenue from selling adverts.

Do people know that lots of websites give the option to opt out of personalised ads? Would they rather opt out or keep seeing targeted adverts? Do they think that websites can be trusted to only capture the information that they need? Anyone who’s comfortable could share their thoughts with the group. Maybe everyone is happy seeing personalised ads, but a lot of people aren’t aware of the data that’s collected to make that happen. Targeted advertising is a really complicated issue – it’s about making sure that everyone’s aware that it happens so they can make their own informed choices.


All activities must be safely managed. Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Do a risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Always get approval for the activity and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.

Online safety

Supervise young people when they’re online and give them advice about staying safe.

For more support around online safety or bullying, check out the NSPCC website. If you want to know more about specific social networks and games, Childnet has information and safety tips for apps. You can also report anything that’s worried you online to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection command.

As always, if you’ve got concerns about a young person’s welfare (including their online experiences), follow the Yellow Card reporting processes.