Building a Monetizable Kid-Safe Internet: A Conversation with SuperAwesome’s Dennis Colón

Children are using technology at younger ages, especially now with the pandemic forcing families to stay mostly at home, with many even schooling from home.

We see YouTube and TikTok increasing in popularity amongst young audiences, as concerns about children’s privacy are only growing.  In recent weeks, news reports of a$3.2 billion class-action lawsuit against YouTube citing children’s privacy violations in the UK, as well as a complaint filed against TikTok for its data collection practices from minors under 13.

COPPA gives parents control over what information websites can collect from their kids. And under GDPR, data can only be collected and processed once a chile reaches 16 unless a parent or guardian gives their consent. Meanwhile, CCPA requires businesses to verify that a consumer is 16 or older and able to provide their own consent to the selling of their personal information. And more regulations are coming.

What is an advertiser who legitimately wants to engage with kids supposed to do under these constraints? Or what about a publisher who seeks to monetize their specifically targeted under-16 audience?

We heard an old dear friend, Dennis Colón, who we knew from his days as an ad ops exec at Conde Nast and CBSi had recently joined SuperAwesome as VP of Global Operations. SuperAwesome’s technology powers safe digital engagement with the under-16 crowd, enabling 12 billion monthly transactions, including safe advertising and community and parental consent across kid-and-family friendly apps and digital services.

So we reached out to Colón to learn more about his transition into his new role and to better understand how brands and pubs can better engage with kids.

Lynne d Johnson: We heard you moved over from ad ops to VP of Global Operations at SuperAwesome. What interested you in making the switch?

Dennis Colón: There are many reasons why SuperAwesome was the right fit for me. When making an important career decision, I always consider a few factors – the first, and perhaps most important, being the people that make up the business. And (no pun intended) the people at SuperAwesome are really awesome!

Beyond being knowledgeable about kids and the kidtech space, they are ambitious, strategic, and driven by a collective mission. On top of working with great people, the tech was intriguing to me. Not only is it strong and distinct, but best of all, it’s built for a greater purpose.

Lastly, I was looking for a new challenge. Joining a company that has its roots in tech while also managing a thriving media business seemed like an exciting opportunity.

LdJ: The first 90 days are critical to the success of a leader in a new role. What have you been doing in your first 90 days to ensure your success?

DC: Every company is different, so it’s critical for new leaders to deeply understand the business and its nuances. This starts with listening. In a new role, my approach is to go on a ‘listening tour’ to immerse myself in the people, processes, and systems prior to giving input.

I especially love to hear the sales team pitch because I want to understand how we view ourselves and how we’re perceived externally. I would also add that a strong onboarding process sets the tone for future success. SuperAwesome provided a strong, organized, and flexible plan.

LdJ: What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing in your new role?

DC: This is a new space for me, and in new experiences you can’t rely on old playbooks. I’ve completely stepped outside of my comfort zone, which is both challenging and rewarding. As a leader, I strive to add value not only throughout the organization but also to our clients and partners, which can be difficult in such a strict and complex ecosystem. There’s a good reason why many organizations don’t try to tackle the kids’ space, but we’re finding innovative ways to drive the business forward while also benefiting the greater good.

LdJ: What are some of the misconceptions that publishers and advertisers both have about reaching younger audiences? How does SuperAwesome educate pubs about creating great experiences for kids that are both compliant and monetizable?

DC: One of the biggest misconceptions is that it’s impossible to compliantly reach younger audiences. In previous roles, I’ve actually worked to block monetization efforts from crossing into kids’ content. But this approach is bad for both content owners and brands. It’s fundamentally why the kidtech sector was started: to enable safe engagement with the under-16 audience in a way that works for the entire ecosystem.

Making the internet safer for kids is ingrained in our DNA. Our platform not only ensures that brands aren’t collecting data on young audiences; we’re making online experiences better all-around and protecting kids from being taken advantage of in any capacity. Doing this well requires a unique combination of people and technology.

For example, our Kid-Safe Social Video tool combines technology with our world-leading moderation to enable the most effective contextual audience targeting. As another example, we use our kids social platform, PopJam, as an insights tool from which to build creative and content recommendations for campaigns running across our marketplace.

LdJ: CCPA recently went into effect. How does CCPA go beyond COPPA to protect children’s privacy? Also, how do SuperAwesome’s SAFE ADS help publishers and advertisers to be compliant with those regs as well as GDPR?

DC: CCPA gives California residents stronger data privacy protections than COPPA, including the right to opt-out of data collection, to know what data is being collected about them, and to request deletion of that data. And, interestingly, it extends COPPA-style protections to teens between the ages of 13 and 15, while COPPA applies to children under the age of 13.

I learned very early on that everyone at SuperAwesome views their work through the lens of compliance and privacy by design. Historically, digital advertising platforms are built with deep-rooted data collection at all levels, so it was imperative that we started from a foundation of safety and compliance to build for the needs of the kids’ audience.

Our AwesomeAds ad platform was designed to help both publishers and advertisers guarantee that zero personal data is collected on their young audience, in compliance with the regulatory standards set by COPPA, CCPA, and GDPR. When kids and parents see the SAFE AD watermark, they can rest assured that the ad content they are viewing meets the highest standards of safety and privacy.

Our entire suite of products works together to help brands reach young audiences in a way that’s both effective and kid-safe. Whether it’s enabling parental consent for enhanced interaction or enabling a safe community through our kid-safe social platform, PopJam, SuperAwesome helps brands comply with privacy laws in a way that makes an impact.