Keeping children safe in the age of social media


SafeToNet is a cyber safety company based in the UK that develops software to protect children from online risks. The start-up uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to help parents monitor their children’s activity online in a nonintrusive way and alerts children of imminent risks. We spoke to the CEO of SafeToNet, Richard Pursey, to find out more about the risks children face online and learn more about the best ways to protect them.

“Children today are exposed to bullying and abuse like never before. Bullying has always been a problem but before the advent of internet and social media, this was largely confined to the school playground and the bullying ended when children got back home.

With social media, the size of the playground has been increased to the size of the planet and children are now exposed to unprecedented levels of predatory behaviour from total strangers, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Social media platforms have millions of undesirable users and it is very easy for children to come into contact with these users. It makes them especially vulnerable to risks such as bullying, grooming, sextortion and abuse. And because children understand how to use social media better than their parents, it is hard to find out whom they’re talking to and even harder to protect them.

It is a difficult balancing act. On the one hand, children have rights to privacy online, especially if they are in their teens. On the other hand, parents have an obligation to protect their children. There are also legal restrictions to snooping on messages. In the UK, only the intelligence agencies and the police have the legal right to intercept messages.

Parents therefore need to be educated about the risks so that they can talk to their children about them. It is, however, also important for the child to feel respected. Understandably, children hate parental controls that spy on them.

Our SafeToNet app uses machine learning and AI to analyse a child’s behaviour online and provides parents with insights into their child’s online world, without sharing with them what their children are sending, sharing or receiving.

It also features a three-strike system. The app first tries to alert children about the danger and steer them away from it by talking to them in child-friendly language. Then, if needed, the app automatically takes actions to protect the child—such as turning the camera off to prevent them from sending inappropriate photos of themselves to a stranger.

All this is done by app and nobody apart from the child gets involved. However, if the app begins to see disturbing patterns in the child’s behaviour—such as an increase in the use of aggressive language—then it alerts the parent so that they can talk to them.

Children now have access to devices such as mobile phones and tablets at a very young age and our role is to get our software on as many of these devices as possible. I genuinely think that, by ensuring that children grow up in a safe online environment—one where abuse and aggression is simply not permitted— companies such as ours can affect long-term social change.”

Our SafeToNet app uses machine learning and AI to analyse a child’s behaviour online and provides parents with insights into their child’s online world, without sharing with them what their children are sending, sharing or receiving.

Richard Pursey - CEO of SafeToNet

> Find out more about SafeToNet