Software developed by an Israeli start-up could help concerned parents protect their children from potential predators and cyber bullies online.
The software from United Parents, which can be downloaded for free onto the child's computer, sends parents an alert by email or text message when suspicious relationships or activities are detected.
Computer algorithms analyze children's interactions on Facebook - within 10 days the service will also be able to track interactions over MSN Messenger.
"Parents probably know about one of two email accounts or nicknames the child uses but often there are other accounts they don't know about," co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Hanan Lavy told Reuters. "We give the parents the information and they choose what to do with it."
When suspicious interactions are detected an alert will direct parents to United Parents' website where they can get more information and advice about what to do next.
Lavy said the service protects children's privacy more than other products that save chat logs and screen captures and require parents to wade through masses of information.
United Parents does not share with parents private content and dialogues, only the analysis done by a computer algorithm that is also capable of deciphering the chat lingo used by children that is often unfamiliar to adults.
A Consumer Reports survey released in May found that millions of children use Facebook without supervision, exposing themselves to serious threats from predators and bullies.
United Parents, which creates a community of parents, provides increasing protection as the user-base grows.
The typical online predator often approaches dozens of children in a short time and United Parents can detect this type of behavior to maintain a "digital fingerprint" for potential predators who interact with a registered child.
Building a community
"Our technology is able to leverage the knowledge of the community to protect the individual," Lavy said.
United Parents can also alert parents to positive behavior, such as when a child rejects the approach of someone suspicious.
Lavy, who was head of research and development at Mercury, an Israeli company acquired by Hewlett Packard, started United Parents after he saw the risky online behavior of a relative.
"I thought the solutions available were so unhelpful. I wanted the option of building a community where parents can help other parents," he said.
United Parents plans to start generating revenue in the late summer or autumn from charging for premium features such as expedited service, packages for more than one child and mobile support. The company expects to be profitable in 2012 or 2013.
Though many of the products available are from small players such as United Parents, large companies such as Intel Corp's McAfee are entering the market.
"The big companies are seeing this market as an opportunity and that puts us in a great position," said Lavy, adding that United Parents was in talks with several companies about cooperation that could include being acquired or licensing agreements.
"We plan on building a big company but if an interesting offer comes along we will consider it at any stage," he said.
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