Posted on March 1, 2017 by staff

iPhone app to detect presence of online predators


A new app is using algorithms to detect children’s emotions so it can alert parents when online threats surface.

Sophie is an iPhone app developed by researchers in South Australia which studies the intensity, timing, tone and language of the user when they type and uses the information to determine a baseline of normal behavioural activity.

It then uses artificial intelligence to alert parents when their children demonstrate emotional behaviour such as anxiety or fear.

Co-founder Ben Flink said he came up with Sophie after hearing about a friend’s child who had been contacted by an online predator through a computer game.

“There are 17 million kids aged 12-17 on the internet on their mobile devices in the US alone and 10 per cent already admit to physically meeting up with strangers,” Flink said.

“Predators like to illicit specific types of emotional and psychological responses from a child to build up a relationship and disenfranchise them from their existing network.

“Sophie uses machine learning to pick up on emotional cues and through its algorithms can alert the parent with an indicator that perhaps the child is talking to a predator.”

According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children there are almost 850,000 registered sex offenders in the United States.

Sophie is intended to be a safety net for children who are first-time smartphone users.

If there are any spikes of activity outside the child’s normal emotional range, an email is sent to the parents notifying them of the abnormal behaviour. It provides them with relevant advice on how to address the situation.

The app also can be used to report cyber crimes including child exploitation and cyber bullying to authorities.

“It’s not just looking at key words or phrases but a whole input of behaviour,” Flink said.

“As someone with a young family, knowing that the current tools aren’t working means something needs to be done.

“We want to use Australia as our test market at the moment before heading into North America because this is a global issue.”

Flink is deputy director at the New Venture Institute, which is the centre of innovation and entrepreneurship at Flinders University in South Australia’s capital Adelaide.

He recently took Sophie to Boston where it was a top-10 finalist at the Bridge to MassChallenge accelerator programme, joining other South Australian startups such as, the quit-smoking app, and Edufolios, which helps teachers manage their personal development.

Sophie was co-founded by Briony Schadegg and digital agency Jamshop. It is set to launch on Apple’s App Store toward the middle of this year.