CMU alumnus develops app to track cyberbullying, sexting
Recently PocketGuardian, an app to alert parents when cyberbullying or sexting has occurred on their child’s phone, launched for iOS and Android devices. According to PocketGuardian’s website, the purpose of PocketGuardian is not for parents to spy on their child, but to “help prevent the devastating consequences of sexting and cyberbullying.” The app was founded by parents and software developers James Ryan and Jason France, a Carnegie Mellon alumnus who completed both his undergraduate and graduate studies here, graduating from Heinz College in 2004.
The idea for PocketGuardian came from a story that Ryan and France had heard in the news: A teenage girl had committed suicide after a nude photo of her was spread amongst her classmates. Moved by the tragic yet all-too-familiar case of cyberbullying, France and Ryan wanted to use their technological skills to prevent such an event from happening again. After investigating similar cases in which cyberbullying and sexting were involved, they found that oftentimes parents were unaware that their child was being cyberbullied or involved in sexting.
Their solution was simple: alert parents if their child sends or receives messages with offending content, in order to at least start a conversation between both parties. The alert would contain a timestamp, alert type, and whether the content was sent or received, but would not actually show any part of the actual message in order to maintain the child’s privacy. In this way, PocketGuardian aims to promote communication between parents and children, while still maintaining a level of trust between the two.
In addition to monitoring texts, PocketGuardian can also monitor the messaging apps WhatsApp and Kik, although with some limited functionality on iPhones. Its detection software relies not on keywords, but rather on context, by determining “the statistical probability that content in a given context is inappropriate,” and constantly “learning the latest nuances in speech,” according to PocketGuardian’s website.
Although PocketGuardian is available for both Android and iOS, it is not found in the usual app store on each device. In order to download PocketGuardian, users must register at gopocketguardian.com, which will enable parents to enroll their child’s mobile device. For parents with multiple children, the addition of more devices comes at no extra cost. From there, Android users will be able to download an app from the website, whereas for iPhone users, PocketGuardian works as a cloud service and does not require an app to download or function. PocketGuardian costs $3.99 a month.