A mother watches her daughter have sex and snort cocaine in the latest season of the dystopian TV series Black Mirror. That’s after the mom installed parental controls not only on a smartphone, but on everything her daughter sees.
The co-founder of the Israeli start-up Sentry Parental Control said his company’s smartphone application is not the same thing.
“We’re not blocking anything,” said Michael Druker. “We don’t allow parents to see everything, just flagged suspicious content.”
The TV program shows the addictive allure of being able to track a child’s GPS location and read flagged texts, which is partially what Sentry Parental Control offers.
“I can tell you from my experience, and we are testing the app… I’m tracking my co-founder and he’s tracking myself back,” said Druker.
“If he tells me, ‘I’m still at work,’ I can check. And when you start checking all the time it becomes very addictive, spying… you become addicted very fast.”
Sentry Parental Control may sound like nothing more than a violation of privacy. But last month, the Israeli app alerted parents in Goodyear, Arizona, that their 13-year-old son was in a sexual relationship with his 27-year-old teacher, Brittany Zamora.
The parents credited Sentry Parental Control for flagging sexually explicit texts and naked pictures. The parents expressed the fear that without the app, the teacher would have continued sleeping with their boy.
The app is currently offered only on Android phones, as the start-up is still in bootstrap mode – meaning it has yet to raise funds.
Co-founder Druker hopes that changes soon.
The app is crafted in a way to try to circumvent privacy pitfalls. The app’s icon runs in the background, so the child knows it’s there.
Sentry Parental Control simply notifies the parent when suspicious content is accessed or detected – like nudity or texted bullying – by using machine-learning capabilities that scan photos and texts. And the photos are blurred, to prevent parents from checking out who their son or daughter is sexting.
“The child’s privacy is kept. We fought a lot to keep the child’s privacy. Parents can’t see on their app all the texts and all the images. Parents can only see the texts and blurred images flagged as suspicious. We protect the child’s privacy on one hand and on the other, we help parents save time.”
Without the app, a concerned parent might be tempted to pry the smartphone out of the hands of his or her child, checking for inappropriate texts and images. That’s not necessarily healthy.
SENTRY PARENTAL CONTROL also doesn’t block any website or content, including pornography sites. And what differentiates the Israeli app from its competitors is that it doesn’t allow parents to lock the screen of the phone after kids spend more than a certain amount of time on their phone.
“You as a parent choose when and how to react, in a way that best fits you on how to act and which fits your relationship,” Druker said.
“Some parental control tools are harming parent-child relationships, because all those tools are concentrated on blocking or locking out.”
In Israel, most kids get their smartphone before the age of 10, especially in the center of the country and in more affluent neighborhoods, Druker noted. His son was one of the last of his friends to get a smartphone, at the beginning of the fourth grade.
Some 4,000 children use the app and spend on average some four hours daily on their smartphone.
The app shows the battery status of a child’s phone, so the parent can alert him or her to charge it. And a parent can control the mute/vibrate/sound setting in order to contact their child in an emergency.
Sentry Parental Control can also send notifications if the child is calling someone outside of his or her address book, along with detailing the amount of time spent on different apps.
Some competitors require parents to ask their children for social media account passwords. The Israeli start-up – building on a national cybersecurity legacy – can see everything, without needing permission from a fickle son or daughter. It claims to be able to read messages on WhatsApp and other platforms that are encrypted.
And the app claims an image-detection success rate of above 92%, with a false positive rate of 1% to 2%. That means if you look at 1,000 images, only 10 to 20 of them are flagged as suspicious, on average.
When it comes to textual analysis – alerting parents to possible bullying – the app is almost as accurate.
“It’s currently based on several layers of recognition – a dictionary of keywords, which was created by our algorithm and the combination of an algorithm. One of our unique features is [the ability] as a parent to add keywords to be notified about. The system is constantly improving by utilizing keywords coming from parents.
The start-up is based in the central town of Ra’anana and was founded by Michael Druker and his colleague Michael – who prefers to remain anonymous since he’s working on other tech ventures. The company is represented by Anna Moshe, a senior partner at the Pearl Cohen Zedek Latzer Baratz law firm.
Both Michaels immigrated to Israel on the same plane from Russia in the 1990s and have remained best friends and colleagues.
Druker spent some 15 years in developing and managing operations, including working on machine-learning. The other Michael hails from the Unit 8200 Intelligence Corps and has set-up a mobile gaming platform that has more than four million users.