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Published: Thursday, May 16, 2019 @ 6:30 PM
DAYTON — For parents, keeping up with what your child is texting, emailing, tweeting and posting on social media can feel exhausting.
The I-Team found a crowded field of parenting apps.
Some of them track your child's location and developers say it will help protect them. But then, there are apps that use a technology called machine learning.
"(Machine learning is) having a computer use vast amounts of data, look for associations, look for a clustering of information that may have common interests," Steven Gollmer, Cedarville University professor of physics said.
Gollmer is an expert on machine learning.
"The technology, I think, works to an extent," he said. "The more data you have the more opportunity you have to find something that's relevant. But it's also easy for it to get lost and find some associations that are irrelevant."
One of those apps that uses machine learning is Bark. It costs $9 a month or $99.00 a year, per family.
"Bark is technology that keeps children safer online by monitoring over 25 social media networks and platforms, texts and emails," Titania Jordan, co-founder and chief parenting officer for Bark.us, said.
She said the app goes further than alerting parents about potentially scary situations like cyber-bullying, sexting, suicide or online predators.
The developers of the app claim on their website that the app has helped prevent 16 school shootings.
"We have helped escalate 16 plausible school shooting threats to the FBI," Jordan told WHIO.
When asked by the I-Team how the company supports that claim, Jordan said, "Sixteen was the number that we can actually say credibly were directly related to those threats. For example, perhaps they got back to us and said thank you for this alert we actually found, let's say, guns in the child's backpack."
Its credibility Jordan said can be proven by her company working directly with the FBI.
But in an email, an FBI spokesperson told the I-Team they needed more information to know who the app developer talked to in order to verify their findings. The I-Team asked Bark that question on April 24. They have not responded.
News Center 7 learned all 16 public school districts in Montgomery County subscribe to a social media monitoring system similar to Bark, called Social Sentinel.
If Social Sentinel notices something suspicious, it sends an alert to a school administrator’s phone — and even their desktop — so they can see what was posted and whether it needs to be investigated.
"It has been an unbelievable resource. I'm really glad we have it," Kettering City Schools Superintendent Scott Inskeep said.
Inskeep told the I-Team an alert from Social Sentinel in March helped prevent a potential suicide.
"It was a student that was threatening hurting themselves and the call went right to the parents and immediately they went and got this kid some help and hopefully averted something as serious as a suicide for this kid," he said.
But Inskeep and safety experts agree: while these parenting and social media tracking apps are tremendous tools, there's still a need for real people when it comes to preventing threats at school.
"You have to still be a parent, you can't depend on an algorithm or some type of social media app to tell you everything," said Officer John Davis, public information officer for the Centerville Police Department.
The creators of Bark also stress relationship building between parents and their children.
"No technology is 100 percent foolproof and can replace active and engaged parenting and leadership on behalf of school administrators."