New app alerts parents when children are cyberbullied

Developed by Israelis, the Keepers app lets parents know when their children are being cyberbullied.

Man talking on mobile phone. (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Man talking on mobile phone.
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Keepers Child Safety, a company based in Jerusalem, has developed an app that can alert parents when their children are in danger of being bullied through messages on their smartphones.
In the age of Snapchat and WhatsApp, bullying has moved from the playground to the Internet. A 2016 study conducted by the Public Security Ministry found that one in three children is a victim of cyberbullying. Parents want to protect their kids, but face the challenge of balancing privacy and safety.
Launched June 29 on Google Play, Keepers is an Android app that uses artificial intelligence to detect hateful and offensive language on a child’s smartphone and alerts the child’s parents.
Using an algorithm developed by software engineers and child psychologists, in conjunction with the IBM, the app identifies cyberbullying across all social media platforms.
“We tried to bring to parents an awareness of what their child is doing on social media,” Keepers Child Safety CEO Hanan Lipskin said.
A parent must download the app on the child’s phone and enter an email address to link the child’s phone to his own. Through an artificial intelligence system based on IBM Watson, the app recognizes emotion in text. If the child receives a message or a comment that the system determines is cyberbullying, the parent will be alerted on his phone.
Arik Budkov, the man behind the app, feels a personal connection to cyberbullying. The son of his friend committed suicide after months of online aggression. He worked with Lipskin, a software engineer, and Doron Yaakobi, an app designer, to start the company, over a year and a half ago.
“I decided I would go on from my comfortable life to create something that would make the world a better place,” Lipskin said. “I know it’s a big cliché.”
Knowing that kids often mess around, the developers worked with child psychologists to determine what constitutes cyberbullying.
“It is irrational to think that a child at the age of 12 would think about killing himself only because some people in his class told him he is gay,” Lipskin said.
Targeted for children ages eight to 14 and their parents, the app only alerts parents when it detects bad language. Once this information is transferred to the parent’s device, it is removed from the Keepers server, in order to protect the child’s privacy.
With most of its early adopters in Israel, Keepers has users in Germany, Greece, Italy and Austria. The app received first place in Digital-Life-Design’s 2017 Conference and was only the third Jerusalem-based company to be accepted to the European Commission’s Horizon 2020, an initiative that provides funding for scientific research.
When they perfect the Android technology, Keepers’ founders hope to develop a version of the app that will work on iPhones. Additionally, when they master the technology, they hope to apply the algorithm to audio as well. For legal reasons, they cannot extend the app to include video.
“[Parents] need to be sure what is going on today. And there is a big gap [in their knowledge]. Our first goal is to close this gap,” Yaakobi, now the VP of product management, said. “I believe we need to protect the child’s privacy. But something like 5% [of the content] is crucial and needs to be watched by the parents.”
Yaakobi hopes that in the long term, monitoring children’s behavior on social media will become a world standard.
“Our goal is to educate society to look differently at children’s behavior on social media,” he said.