A new tool in the ongoing journey to make young people better digital citizens hits iOS and Android app stores today: SafeToNet. Using Artificial Intelligence (AI), SafeToNet interprets and contextualizes what the young person is typing into their mobile device and, if inappropriate, responds back. However, unlike traditional parental control software that spies on the child’s text messages or browser activity and reports that information back to the adult, SafeToNet maintains the child’s privacy.
“It’s about communication between the parent and child,” Randi Feigin, SafeToNet’s chief executive officer of the Americas and a mother of two tells Parentology. She explains that if you tell a young person they can’t do something, they’ll find a way to do it anyway; instead, SafeToNet offers tools and reminders that help kids make smart decisions.
How It Works
Every child on SafeToNet is given an indicator score based on the things they type into social networks and messaging apps. According to the press materials, the algorithm understands the difference between regular kid banter and aggression, and can detect nine distinct states of emotion in the child’s behavior.
SafeToNet filters harmful content before it can be sent, and provides in-the-moment guidance to children. For example, it may warn the child that their words are sounding threatening, ask if they are feeling depressed, or question if they are talking about inappropriate sexual content.
Parents, meanwhile, receive real-time feedback on changes in their children’s online activity. There aren’t specific details, but indications that high-risk words are being used. These are followed by prompts that can help the parent talk with their child and find out what’s going on.
“There are many different areas where we pull from, both internally and externally, to give parents the tools to have that conversation,” Feigin says. “We’ve got cyber psychologists, technologists, parents, data scientists, research groups, linguistics specialists, and a [teenage] youth advisory board.” SafeToNet also works with cyber criminologists so that the AI can watch out for online predators.
Installation is fairly simple, but you will need your child’s device.
- Install the SafeToNet app on your device.
- Click “parent” and login.
- Click the + sign to add a child’s device.
- Download SafeToNet on your child’s device.
- Tap “child” and follow the instructions to set it up.
- You’ll then be given a numeric code on the parent account to link them together.
Now More Than Ever
There has been an enormous uptick in hate speech online, especially toward coronavirus-related racism. Likewise, a report from 2019 showed that in the United States, 37% of children experienced cyberbullying and 30% said they had it happen to them more than once. And, according to a recent survey from the creators of the Jiminy app, children are often exposed to sexual content by the age of 10.
Clearly, these kinds of apps are necessary, and SafeToNet does offer tools to combat cyberbullying, sexting, abuse, and aggression online. The app filters harmful content in real-time and detects when someone is being bullied, bullying, or struggling with issues of low self-esteem. The app indicates to parents when their child moves towards or away from risk and provides insights on their mobile use, but only up to a point.
SafeToNet has drawn a hard line in the sand when it comes to children’s privacy. The real question is whether or not parents appreciate that. Depending on the circumstances, some parents may really want to see the child’s texts and online activity — and they have the legal right to do so if the child is under 18 and the parent paid for that phone. However, other parents disagree and feel communication will instill responsibility in the child.
Like with all things in parenting, there is no easy solution. The best option is to try out SafeToNet and see if it works for your family.