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Q&A: How to use AI to keep children safe online (Includes interview)

Powered by machine learning algorithms, Jiminy prioritizes protecting children by alerting parents of problematic patterns and toxic behaviors (cyberbullying, body image issues, game addiction, screen time obsession) in their children’s phone usage.

To find out more about the company and the complexities and benefits of running an AI-centric startup, Digital Journal spoke with Jiminy’s CEO, Tal Guttman.

Digital Journal: What are the main risks faced by children online?

Tal Guttman: The reality is such that kids today have constant access to the internet, yet lack parental involvement in their digital lives. We know that children between the ages of 8-15 use their mobile phones for a weekly average of 40 hours, with the top 10% using their phones for a whopping 90 hours every week. That’s almost four full days of unsupervised activity. As a parent, I’m sure you would not allow your eight-year-old child to spend four days alone in a place with no adult supervision; so why would you let this same child surf the internet without the experience to navigate it safely?

Children are facing day-to-day challenges in their digital lives, yet most parents are not properly equipped to support them. This does not only pertain to serious, long-term threats, such as interactions with potential child predators or suicidal thoughts. What if your child isn’t getting enough sleep each night due to online game binging? What if your child downloaded four weight-loss applications in one day? Such toxic activities can lead to serious long-term consequences. How can parents be supportive when often their kids don’t share all that they are experiencing?

DJ: Why did you develop Jiminy?

Guttman: Most parents are lacking the right inputs to engage in a proper feedback loop with their children; if a child approaches a crowded street, parents have that gut instinct to intervene and prevent disaster, but what’s the equivalent in a child’s digital life? The only way for a parent to teach right from wrong is when they know what issues children are struggling with. Jiminy was developed to help bring more visibility to parenting in the digital age, as well as to protect children online and keep them safe in real life.

DJ: What functions does Jiminy have?

Guttman: Powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, Jiminy prioritizes protecting children by alerting parents of problematic patterns and toxic behaviors that develop in their children’s phone usage (messaging, apps, and browsing). Jiminy then provides parents with strategies and actionable insights, created by a team of experts led by my co-founder Oren Shefet, a leading US Psychologist, on how to navigate these challenges.

Parents receive updates and insights that give them a good understanding of what is going on while respecting children’s privacy – Jiminy never shares the child’s specific messages, photos, or URLs. If parents want to know more, they need to talk to their children. However, Jiminy always alerts parents to specific dangers that present an immediate threat to a child, whether that be child predators or suicidal thoughts.

It’s important to note here that Jiminy does not only focus on the “scary stuff” like cyberbullying and living double lives on social media. Equally important, in our view, is having insights into a child’s joys and challenges in order to help them grow. “Fun Facts” notifications give parents insights about what’s popular in a child’s day-to-day digital life, such as favorite online games, hobbies, and interests. Jiminy puts those experiences of a child’s digital life into the context of the overall online ecosystem, demonstrating why kids, in general, are exploring such hobbies and passions.

DJ: What were the main challenges with the development?

Our main challenge was developing a platform that helps parents protect their children online while navigating very tricky issues of privacy. Does an 8-year-old child deserve as much privacy as a 14-year-old adolescent? How intrusive should parents be when checking in on their kids’ online activities? Ultimately, we built Jiminy with the outlook that privacy is a spectrum: as parents become more fluent with their child’s internet usage, they can afford their children more privacy.

Think of it as training wheels for kids using their first phones. Jiminy provides extra support at the beginning of a child’s digital life to ensure that they are safe online. As children become more aware of potential virtual dangers and parents become more comfortable with their kids’ digital lives, the training wheels can come off. This allows a process of trust-building between parent and child.

Another challenge we faced was figuring out exactly what parents are really concerned about regarding their children’s online activities. A 16-year-old adolescent using a weight-loss app is different than an 11-year old child using the same app. Since we determined that privacy is a spectrum and parental concerns change according to factors such as age, time, and location, we had to expertly tailor our AI algorithms to take a number of these specific factors into consideration.

DJ: How did you test out Jiminy?

Guttman: We first launched Jiminy on Facebook Messenger as a chatbot for parents so we could determine major concerns they come across when raising their kids. We wanted to make it as easy as we possibly could for parents, allowing them to interact with us without downloading anything on their own phone. We quickly grew to be a loyal community of parents who leverage data to become better parents.

DJ: How advanced is AI becoming?

Guttman: Artificial intelligence’s meteoric rise shows no sign of slowing down. In regard to advancement, I believe where we will see the most growth is with consumer AI, or in layman terms, devices that directly help people with everyday challenges.

More interestingly, this advanced AI will likely push into places we perceive today as sacrosanct, whether that be parenting or even relationships. On a positive note, this means AI tools will advance to the point where individualization will not be an issue.

DJ: What else are you working on?

Guttman: We are working on building a child advisory board. We want to hear their concerns and thoughts, so we can build a better product, one that is helpful to parents and respectful of young people. We feel that the more opportunities we can create to include children’s perspectives throughout the development of our products, the better Jiminy can be.

It’s also worth mentioning that we are always working to improve Jiminy’s machine learning algorithms and customer-facing product to ensure children remain safe and protected online. Right now, we are proud to be able to alert parents to over 50 different kinds of harmful situations that may impact their children in their digital lives. We expect this number to only grow as our AI gets smarter.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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