The app, Sophie, is the brainchild of Briony Schadegg and Ben Flink.
Ms. Schadegg has a background in policing and said she wanted to create the app to help parents monitor their children’s online activity without invading their privacy.
An app developer at the New Venture Institute at Flinders University, Mr Flink said he was motivated by personal concerns about the future of his young children.
How the app works
Mr Flink said by using text recognition software, the app was able to monitor the personality, mood and tone of online communications.
When changes are noticed in conversation tones, a text will be sent to a parent to alert them of a possible problem.
It’s allowing a parent to understand what is inside their child’s [online] diary without actually reading it,” Mr Flink said.
She said the app would be visible at all times and it would be best to install it with the child watching to explain what it does.
“It is a keyboard app, so it is there all the time … when you are typing.”
Parents sent helpful information
Sending warning messages to parents could create panic in some families, so the app creators have also made sure messages contain information on how to broach the issue with their child.
“We’ll also be sending resources to enable parents to have those conversations,” Mr Flink said.
All we are trying to do is provide parents with information and a line of action they can take,” Ms Schadegg said.
“We are not trying to remove parents’ abilities to parent.
“We’re just hopefully providing them with a tool … [and] hopefully have a better outcome.”
Bullying, sexting, depression algorithms to be included
Mr Flink will take a beta version of the app to Boston next month as part of the MassChallenge three-day international start-up boot camp.
“What we really want to get out of Boston is large-scale investment,” Mr Flink said.
He said while version one of Sophie would concentrate on changes in behaviour, they would like to develop more versions of the app to include a raft of social and mental health indicators looking for things like bullying behaviour, sexting and signs of depression.
“Research shows the earlier you pick up problems in a child’s development, the less long-term problems you will have,” Ms Schadegg said.
“I’d like to see this app installed on children’s first devices.”