Dad Invents App To Protect Kids From Cyberbullying And Other Online Dangers

A family's watchdog for internet safety.

Technology has opened up a new, exciting world, enabling us access to all forms of communication and information, all the time, everywhere. But, the advancements are not without their downsides. Cyberbullying, predators, trolls and online scams are rampant, and they affect those most vulnerable — namely teens. 

After kids reach a certain age, it's near-impossible for most parents to keep them off technology.. In an effort to keep kids safe from online dangers then, one father invented Bark, a parental control tracker app for iPhone and Android. 

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Bark is described as "a family's watchdog for internet safety."

Courtesy of Bark

Bark CEO, Brian Bason, told A Plus via email that he founded Bark "to empower parents to work with their children to keep them safe." He wanted to use his digital media expertise and to have something that would protect his own children without compromising their privacy. He could not find any good parental control and monitoring options in the landscape at the time, so he created his own solution. 

Courtesy of Bark

In a nutshell, the parenting app allows parents to monitor their child's online activity without having to constantly read everything they've written and received. Parents can sign up for an account on the Bark website, then work with their kids to sync their accounts. 

Email, texting, and social media accounts — including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+ — can be added to the account to be monitored. Bark has a capacity to monitor 24 networks, apps, and messaging systems, which is four times more than any other child monitoring app.

Bason applied his 15+ years of experience as a technology product lead and executive, and his experience as a parent, to come up with an easy-to-use tool for parents that keeps them informed of potential trouble without compromising kids' privacy.

For $9 a month per family, Bark will analyze all of the relevant apps and platforms that a parent and their kids have synced with the account. The system looks for cyberbullying, sexting, adult material, and material related to depression, but on a more intermediate level than keywords. It uses advanced machine learning and data science techniques to flag any potential dangers.

In the event something is suspicious, Bark will send the parent a real-time email and/or text warning.

Courtesy of Bark

Additionally, the message will provide guidance on how to deal with the situation.

Because the system isn't forwarding every single message a kid sends/receives, Bark states that "it helps you build trust and truly partner with your children, teaching them to be safe and savvy digital citizens."

Courtesy of Bark

In addition to having a parenting monitoring system, Bark also offers a free system for schools.

Bark for Schools is described as "intelligent monitoring for students' Google Apps accounts." The company points out that the vast majority of schools do not monitor the actual content being generated, sent, and/or received by students on their school email and Google Drive accounts. This can leave students vulnerable to cyberbullying, threats, and violence.

Bark for Schools uses machine-learning algorithms to monitor these accounts to keep students safe. It's available at no cost to Kindergarten through Grade 12 students in the United States. As with Bark, Bark for Schools will notify adults via text and/or email if an issue is detected — in this case, principals or teachers. 

Given the number of school shootings in recent years, and debates about how to keep children safe, anything to protect kids' welfare is important. On top of school violence, cyberbullying and threats can occur on school-related Google accounts.

In a 2017 study, Bark revealed that in 25 schools with over 40,000 students, its systems picked up two bomb/shooting threats, 300 children expressing thoughts of suicide, cutting, and/or self-harm, and 492 instances of nudity/explicit content.

Courtesy of Bark

And the proactive system is helping adults to take action and assist those in need.

Bark for Schools only launched four months ago and it already has 1.5 million protected under it. To date, Bason reports that it has helped to prevent 33 suicide attempts by children, 12 school shooting and bomb threats, and it has stopped a serial child predator. 

"Bark has analyzed close to 1 billion messages of children ages 8 to 17 across texting, email, and social media, so we have real-time insights into the issues surrounding our most vulnerable population," explains Bason. "We can use this data to educate parents, schools, and those in positions of power to help protect this generation."

Bark hopes to see even more students protected in the future. Bason reveals that there are plans to have 10 million kids protected under Bark for Schools by the end of 2018.

The company will also continue to build Bark for Parents and hopes to branch into gaming platforms, expand to other languages and to work to educate parents on digital parenting.

"We have a duty to make sure we are educated as adults and are taking the best steps possible to keep our children safer online," Bason told A Plus. "I hope people realize that we are living in an unprecedented time where we have more power in the palm of our hand than any generation who ever existed in the history of humankind. That power is now being given to children." 

Cover image via  TheVisualsYouNeed I Shutterstock

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