Children are increasingly bombarded with improper online ads and should be better protected from the “opaque commercial practices” of some marketers, according to new research.

A survey by the National Consumer Council (NCC) and Childnet International reveals that a quarter of adverts on children’s favourite sites are aimed at adults – such as gambling and dating services.

Almost 25 per cent of adverts are integrated into content and nearly 73 per cent of these are not labelled as ads, making it hard for young people to differentiate between the two.

The report also highlighted the poor enforcement of data protection laws and the use of ‘free offers’ which ask children to give their friends’ contact details in return for free goods.

Ed Mayo, NCC chief executive, said: “Children are enthusiastic explorers of the online world. But parents should be aware that the internet is highly commercial.

“Every hour that a child spends in front of the computer is like letting them run loose in a shopping centre.”

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