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(Credit: Bowden Images/iStockphoto)

Before the internet, a main worry for parents was knowing where their children were physically. With the accessibility of smartphones and social media, parents now have to worry if their child is safe, even if they're only a few feet away.

To help kids safe--and to keep parents from monitoring their child's every online move--Bark has just launched a self-named app designed to keep children away from harm online.

Bark (iOS, Android) uses artificial intelligence to monitor kids' activity on social media, email, and text. If Bark's algorithm sees something it deems concerning, it sends an alert to the parent's app. The parent's app pairs with a Bark companion app (iOS, Android) on the kids' phone.

SEE: 57 percent of Android apps for kids are breaking privacy laws

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Bark app for parents. (Credit: Screenshot by Download.com)

"Having Bark connected to your child's devices and accounts is similar to wearing a seatbelt," Titania Jordan, Bark's chief parent officer, told TechCrunch. "You would not let your child drive a car without wearing one, so why give them a device that can access the world 24/7/365 without a safeguard?"

For $9 per month regardless of family size, parents get alerts to their children's activity on 24 different social media sites, including Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, and Instagram. The app scans for signs of cyberbullying, depression, possible predators, adult content, and more.

Bark runs 24/7 and sends automatic alerts to parent. When the app detects an issue, a recommendation from a child psychologist for a conversation starter pairs with the alert. Bark claims to save parents from manually monitoring their children's social media and respecting their privacy by only sharing what the app finds potentially risky.

On its site, Bark reminds potential users that the app isn't a replacement parent. Its goal is to help parents to protect their kids and have discussions about internet safety.

Bark says the app can be installed without the child knowing, but parents are strongly encouraged to have an internet-safety conversation with their kids.

"We highly encourage families to have open discussions about online safety and how using Bark helps, and to engender trust with their children by giving them appropriate privacy online," Jordan said. "Children appreciate that Bark does not give their parents the ability to read everything they're doing."

The program has glowing reviews from parents on its website and in the app stores.

"I love how I can feel like my daughter is safe without having to look through her phone and invade her privacy. She is becoming a teenager now, and I would like to give her more independence, and this app allows that," one mom wrote.

"[What] we like most about Bark so far is that it gives us insight to the types of relationships our son has with certain people as well as how he handles himself in some situations," another said.

The reviews for the kids companion app are less than glowing.

"Parents should actually give their kids space. The more parents do things like this to their kids, it just creates more barriers," one user said in the app store.

An Android user said the app flagged common acronym text jargon as inappropriate content and cyber bullying. "Now my parents see everything on my phone and my social life is crippling," the 16-year-old wrote.

The company argues that there's no invasion of privacy, and children already give other companies like Apple, Google, Instagram, and Snapchat access to their data.

Bark also complies with the Child Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA), a law multiple apps haven't adhered to historically. Complying with COPPA means to allow Bark to monitor your child's accounts, the parents must give verifiable consent in the form of a credit card.

TechCrunch reports the 1 billion messages processed by the app revealed 66 percent of teens and 57 percent of adolescents experienced cyberbullying by participating, witnessing, or being targeted. More than half of teens and 40 percent of adolescents talk about depression and anxiety.

The messages analyzed have helped 33 suicidal kids and aided in preventing 12 school shootings. Since Parkland shooting in Florida, Bark started waiving its fee to schools using Google's G Suite for Education and Microsoft Office 365 for Education.

AI isn't a complete fix. Kids are tech savvy and can be sneaky when they want to be. Despite the company's claims of most kids are receptive to the app, they warn some might defy it. Bark has protections in place to alert if the child deletes the app.

Nothing is stopping the child from creating a fake account either. Bark's monitoring can keep parents informed of any decrease of activity, which could possibly mean they're using a different account.

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Bark companion app for kids. (Credit: Screenshot by Download.com)


Takeaways

  1. The Bark app monitors children's activity on social media, email, and text and sends safety alerts to parents for depression, bullying, predatory behavior, and more.
  2. The app uses AI to scan images, messages, comments, and more, flag concerning vocabulary and pictures to warn parents, and sends talking points to help get the conversation started.

Also see

Shelby is an Associate Writer for CNET's Download.com. She served as Editor in Chief for the Louisville Cardinal newspaper at the University of Louisville. She interned as Creative Non-Fiction Editor for Miracle Monocle literary magazine. Her work appears in Glass Mountain Magazine, Bookends Review, Soundings East, and on Louisville.com. Her cat, Puck, is the best cat ever.