Parents can now use artificial intelligence to keep kids safe online

Kids love to play games online, right? Well, have you heard of this one? It’s apparently all the rage. There are a few administrators who dole out a series of challenges over the course of a 50-day period. These challenges are given to kids and teens and are usually pretty simple like carve a person’s name into your arm with a knife, drink something mildly poisonous, watch videos online, pierce your body parts with needles, stand on the edge of a roof and then finally, on the 50th day, you kill yourself. It’s called the Blue Whale challenge and in July it was the reason why a boy in Texas was inspired to live broadcast his suicide. This game is played on a smartphone.

Let me ask you something, would you know if your kid was up to something like this?

My oldest kid is seven years old and has already asked me for a smartphone. “But Nathan has one!” he whined at me while I was in the middle of explaining that no seven-year-old needs something as an expensive or powerful as a smartphone. He can’t manage to get his dirty clothes into a hamper, how can I trust him to be safe and responsible on the Internet where predators are waiting? Or worse, idiots wanting him to complete some gruesome Blue Whale challenge?

So, when I heard about this app called Social Judo being targeted to parents of tweens, I took notice pretty quickly. According to the Social Judo website, “This app shows what current content is on a child’s phone, analyzes it, and reports back to a parent if there is concerning content or even possible danger.” The site goes on to explain how the artificial intelligence (AI) software searches for new apps that teens are using and analyzes not only who is using the apps but why they are using the apps. Social Judo sets up “behavior alarms” that are triggered based on how a child is using whatever app like Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, and others. The makers of Social Judo claim that the AI app can detect if children are in danger from sexual predators, Jihadist extremists, suicide games, drugs and alcohol, bullying and several other terrifying threats found online.

Social Judo is coming to Maine via their Facebook page to talk to parents about cyber bullying in Maine and how their app can help parents keep their kids safe. You can head over to the talk by clicking on their Facebook page here on Thursday, August 17th at 7:30 pm EST. The talk will include statistics on teen internet use and dangers that are specific to Maine.

It seems like a no brainer that someone would come up with this idea, but until recently there really wasn’t an app available that could send parents a Bat Signal when their kids are in harm’s way online without actually spying on their kids. So, how did the makers come up with this app? “Two dads talking on a sports field last summer, a brain surgeon and a technologist were questioning who was protecting kids in cyberspace.” Rob Wheat, the spokesman for Social Judo told me in a recent email exchange, “Kids spend on average 6 hours a day looking and interacting on their phones and neither of them had a clue as to the kinds of things they were doing or who they were engaging. They went in search of an app that would send them a text if their kids were near or engaged in danger.” Wheat explained, that they couldn’t find one so they built it for themselves. He shared that “After friends saw the app in action, they wanted it too, that started the community of concerned and caring parents nationwide who are now Social Judo. Social Judo uses the power of the internet against the power of the internet.”

So, if the internet is so dangerous then it might make more sense to just avoid it and delay giving kids a smartphone altogether, right? “We support that approach, but realistically kids are pressured to have their own phones starting in the 5th grade.” Wheat shared with me, “We think that Social Judo differentiates between spying on your child’s phone and getting a behavior alert triggered and sent to a parent’s phone for review. Kids are addicted to these devices and we need a way to establish the paradigm of parenting with this technology as its exponentially expanding every month.”

Smartphones can do amazing things, it’s true. I can check my FICA score, order dinner, sign a petition, look up weird facts, and make a phone call. But even with all this whiz bang technology that fits in my pocket, there is little I can do to keep my kids safe from the crazy dangers lurking out in the wild west of the internet. “We tell parents everyday it’s not your child you need to beware of as it relates to the use of smartphones.” Wheat points out, adding that “It’s the children that your child interfaces with that can lead them to profanity, bullying, porn, Jihad, Drugs & Alcohol to name a few.”

Wheat explains it this way, “Social Judo uses AI that analyses the content of conversations and alerts a parent if a child has triggered a behavior alert. It is then a parenting moment, and each parent handles those differently, but we at least as a parent, we know.”

To learn more about this app and the dangers that Maine kids and teens face online, you can join the Social Judo talk on Thursday, August 17th and 7:30pm EST.