The Scoop: The Bark app proactively monitors and shields over 3 million children and teens from harm in the digital age. Bark alerts parents and schools to potentially life-threatening or troubling language in a minor’s text messages or social media interactions. The app’s algorithm can identify when a child or teen is sexting, cyberbullying, or expressing harmful thoughts, and it delivers that information to adults who can help handle the situation. Since launching in 2018, the Bark for Schools program has uncovered nearly 200,000 instances of sexually explicit content and over 135,000 instances of cyberbullying across the U.S.
Today’s parents face an unprecedented challenge when it comes to technology. They cannot possibly monitor their child’s every interaction online, yet letting minors wander the web unaccompanied can be dangerous because parents don’t know what they may see or who they may meet.
Buying a child a smartphone can be like opening a Pandora’s box full of cyberbullying, sexting, pornography, and online predators. Yet many parents have taken that risk and given their children access to the online world. Around 45% of U.S. children ages 10 to 12 own a smartphone, and 95% of teenagers have access to a smartphone.
Tech entrepreneur Brian Bason built popular social media platforms, including YouCast and Crowdstream, before pioneering online safety tools in 2015. His concerns as a parent of two digital natives led him to found Bark, an app that notifies parents if their children engage in harmful behavior online.
Bark uses a machine learning algorithm to analyze the texts sent and received by children in the family’s network. It uses a deep knowledge of slang to look for red flags. The app can identify curse words, sexually explicit language, threats of violence, and other warning signs.
It’s important to note that Bark doesn’t allow parents to spy on every conversation their child has — it’s simply there as a fail-safe if a threatening situation occurs.
“Our mission is to help protect kids,” said Titania Jordan, the CMO and Chief Parent Officer of Bark. “That’s something we all obviously feel very passionately about, and it’s incredibly rewarding to hear from families that we’ve made a difference.”
A Learning Algorithm Identifies Troubling Language
In 2015, Brian Bason decided to create a high-tech solution for a high-tech problem. He developed Bark as a way of ensuring his children had the freedom to use the web and text their friends safely and responsibly.
Today, Bark has protected more than 3 million children on over 24 social media platforms, including Pinterest, SnapChat, Gmail, and Reddit. It also features 24/7 text monitoring and email monitoring to give parents peace of mind.
Bark draws from over 900 million data points to assess the threat level in various terms and symbols. The intelligent algorithm learns as it goes, and it has the ability to use context to identify slang terms or code words. Titania said the app can even tell when the texter is joking or using emojis to symbolize sexual acts.
The Bark app notifies parents when it comes across language that expresses potentially dangerous anxiety, depression, violence, or sexual curiosity. The parent will only see the snippet of conversation that includes the troubling language. They can then address the issue by opening a dialogue with their children.
“Bark allows parents to have that tough conversation when necessary while also allowing children to have digital independence,” Titania said. “These safety measures are in place so parents don’t need to see everything their children are doing and everywhere they’re going.”
Like the barking dog it’s named after, Bark raises the alarm and empowers adults to decide how to deal with the threat at hand. Bark offers a one-week free trial for families interested in bringing greater accountability online.
Now Actively Protecting Children in Over 1,000 Schools
After the Parkland school shooting in 2018, the Bark team felt more strongly than ever that this watchdog technology could save lives and saw it as a moral imperative to get that technology into as many hands as possible.
“We realized we needed to roll out Bark to every school in the nation,” Titania said. “We needed to do that yesterday.”
Bark for Schools is a free program that can detect potentially dangerous behavior among students using school computers and smart devices.
Bark’s technology has flagged nearly 200,000 instances of nudity or explicit content as well as over 135,000 instances of cyberbullying on school-issued Google accounts. The app has also prevented 16 school shootings by flagging credible threats and reporting them to the authorities.
“Bark for Schools is the real deal,” said Thad Schulz, the Technology Coordinator at Sebeka Public School in Minnesota. “When an issue arose that could have been life-threatening for one of our students, a Bark team member called our school to help us take correct action.”
Bark has worked tirelessly alongside educational institutions to support a safe learning environment for everyone. Titania told us that these collaborative efforts have had a powerful impact in local communities, and the Bark team intends to continue reaching out to schools in every district in the country.
“It’s more important than ever that we all work together because we need each other,” she said. “Bark is committed to being part of the solution and leading a nonpartisan effort to save lives.”
Smart Safety Measures Build Trust & Foster Independence
Bark measures success not by clicks, views, or subscribers but by the number of children it has saved from harm. Whether it’s notifying parents that their child is having thoughts of suicide or warning schools about a potential threat to the student body, the app keeps adults in the loop so children don’t have to face such dire issues alone.
Bark’s testimonials illustrate its impact on families across the country. Many parents have written positive reviews about the app’s ability to keep their children safe.
“I can’t say for sure that Bark is the reason this little girl is still with us, but I’m so grateful for this service,” said Angee, who found out that her daughter’s friend was being bullied because of Bark. “This friend was told to kill herself, but she confided in my daughter via text. I got the alert and called the other mom right away.”
“I love how I can feel like my daughter is safe without having to look through her phone and invade her privacy.” — A Bark Mom
“I like the fact that my son is allowed to have privacy,” said Shane B. in a testimonial. “I want to give him space to grow but also know if there is an issue. So far, the alerts I have received have spurred some really great conversations on topics like cyberbullying and depression.”
“I’ve found that I see glimpses of awesomeness in my kid,” said Jennifer M. “A friend was texting how sad she was about something, which got flagged by Bark. I got to see my daughter listen and validate her friend’s feelings, and I was so secretly proud of how supportive she was.”
Bark’s mission is to empower parents to address sensitive issues and talk to their children about what’s going on in their lives. Thousands of families have used this watchdog tool to keep underage individuals from getting into serious trouble on the web.
“Bark is the best place I’ve ever worked,” Titania said. “We’re fortunate to have a team of people who truly care about what they’re doing.”
Bark Pioneers New Ways to Keep Digital Natives Safe
The technological age has impacted families in many ways, and parents are still learning how to protect their children in this uncharted terrain. Today’s parents often have to find the right balance between allowing children the freedom to explore and keeping them safe from online threats.
Bark can help with this issue by offering parents a hands-off monitoring system that automatically notifies them about potential problems. The algorithm keeps tabs on children as they text and browse online, and it only gets parents or schools involved if it detects troubling issues, including drug use, sexually explicit language, or cyberbullying.
By arming parents with this knowledge, Bark allows families to have important conversations and catch minor issues before they become life-threatening.
“First and foremost, we educate parents about the digital landscape,” Titania said. “The landscape has changed dramatically, and parents have to be careful if they want to raise responsible digital natives.”