Called “Own It,” the app’s central feature is a keyboard that appears when the user is typing, and uses AI to detect when children could be sharing personal details or typing a distressed or upsetting message. It will then remind them not to share personal information, or offer resources for support, and encourage them to bring issues to, and share online experiences with, a trusted adult such as a parent or guardian.
For example, it can detect if a young user is typing an angry message that could lead to conflict with the recipient. In addition to asking the user whether they’re sure they should send the message, it will offer resources and encourage an honest discussion with a parent.
It also provides functions to limit screen time and a diary to record feelings and experiences. Unlike similar apps, it won’t record behavior and report back to parents.
According to London School of Economics social psychology professor Sonia Livingstone, the fact that it respects the privacy of young users and encourages dialogue, instead of simply monitoring and reporting to parents, is one of the “strengths” of the app.
“Based on my research on children’s online risks and opportunities, I think it should be very helpful for children, especially younger ones, and ideally would also stimulate constructive conversations between children and parents,” according to Livingstone.
However, she also questioned whether the app was likely to reach the young users most at risk in their digital lives.
The app has been in development since 2018, with support and collaboration from a range of charities and organizations including the Mental Health Foundation, the Anti-Bullying Alliance, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Childnet, and the Diana Award.
The app comes amid rising concern over the way young users are affected by their use of mobile devices, social media, and the internet in general.
According to BBC Children’s director Alice Webb:
“The digital world is a fantastic place for people to learn and share, but we know many young people struggle to find a healthy online balance, especially when they get their first phones.”
Webb says the app could act as a “helping hand” to encourage children to develop healthy habits in their digital lives.
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