Bark: A Child's Guardian In Cyberspace - a Talk with Titania Jordan

Bark: A Child's Guardian In Cyberspace - a Talk with Titania Jordan

Within just a few decades, technology has radically changed the way we socialize, work and parent. And, whilst most parenting manuals are designed to help Mum and Dad understand real-life behaviour, many of them fail to address children’s digital habits and the potential risks they face online.

In our next episode of under CTRL, we’re once again exploring the various forms of digital privacy and zooming in a topic that sometimes get overlooked: the online privacy and internet safety of our kids. – and are joined this week by Bark’s Chief Parenting Officer Titania Jordan (officially one of the best titles we’ve had on the podcast so far).

As a mother and media expert, Titania knows the threats lurking in the online space all too well and was driven to join Bark by the desire to help parents keep tabs on their kid’s online activity and internet safety.

Bark: a gentle way to protect kids’ online life

Bark started life in 2015 when founder Brian Bason was looking for a parental control tool to install on his son’s first mobile phone. Unsatisfied by what he found on the market, he decided to go it alone and design a tool to suit his (and many other concerned parents) needs.

The platform uses AI to decode signs of digital danger within children’s digital activity, flagging concerning behaviour through its dashboard and providing recommendations that foster "an honest and candid ongoing conversation between parent and child.”

“Just like you have to wear a seatbelt when you get in the car…”

“… when we allow you to have a device or a gaming platform, (…) there have to be some safety precautions in place.” Titania's passion for her mission is clear from the very beginning of our conversation – stay locked in for an overview of:

  • How far-reaching the online dangers are, ranging from more subtle issues like screen time to highly destructive forms of cyberbullying, online predators, sexual content and self-harm
  • How Bark manages to be a digital guardian and careful online educator, while nurturing trust in the parent-child relationship
  • What can be considered a “phenomenal achievement” regarding the US-specific problem of school gun violence
  • Titania’s top three recommendations for those looking for support and guidance in their journey as parents

If you’ve enjoyed listening to this episode, check out our previous episode with Brave, the privacy browser and advertising company. Stay tuned for more under CTRL podcasts on Spotify and don’t forget to share your feedback and stay connected with all things Tresorit through our official Twitter and LinkedIn channels.

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Paul: Hi everybody! Welcome to the 13th episode of "under CTRL". My name is Paul Bartlett, and on today's show is Titania Jordan, who is the Chief Parenting Officer at Bark. Bark protects 5.2 million children from a number of tweens' and teens' issues, such as cyberbullying, by keeping parents informed of their children's online activity. In this episode, we will discuss the threats that young people are exposed to in an online world, and how Bark's AI algorithm minimizes the risk to our children. Hi Titania! Welcome to the show.

Titania: Thank you! Thank you so much for having me!

Paul: No problem. It's really good to get the opportunity to speak to you today. What I'd like to do is: Obviously, give you the opportunity to give a little bit of feedback about yourself, how you got involved with this, what your motivations are. Because it's a really, really important topic probably for a lot of listeners out there. And then you can go on to talk about the actual solution itself, which is an application. And you can give us some insight about that. So, I hand it over to you.

Titania: Great. Okay.

Paul: And... let's go underway.

Titania: Alright. Well, thank you again, and thank you everyone for listening. We really appreciate you sharing your ears with us.

Paul: Yeah.

Titania: There's a lot of places you can, you know, go to spend your time and consume content, so we're so glad you're here. How- you know, my story, to make a long story short: I'm a mom. I'm a mom of a tween, who is... gosh, just so smart and so brilliant. But also so exposed to so many more things than we ever were as kids. And watching him grow up in a world where he, you know, can access a smartphone before he can even walk or talk, has been a revelation for me. Combined with me, you know, being born in the 80s, and knowing what it was like to live in a world without tech, have a childhood without tech, and then, all of a sudden, be introduced to email, and the internet, and social media at a pivotal age, but - thank god - not as a child or teenager. Again, very insightful. And so I had spent my entire career at the intersection of media and technology, and then parenting. I started in a traditional role in the radio industry in Atlanta, Georgia, and around that time social media was taking off, digital media was taking off, people didn't realize that very soon, there would be this thing called the iPod with digital music files, and the radio would, in some ways, become obsolete. This is before satellite radio and, you know. A crazy, cool time, you know, to be a professional. And then, you know, I had my son Jackson. And realized that for all of the guides that we have as parents, whether it's breastfeeding or bottle-feeding or potty training or discipline or sleeping, you know - these are tried and tested methods that families have been learning through for a very long time. But screen time and access and eventually social media and then the harder issues, like cyberbullying, sexual content, pornography exposure, mental health issues that are evolving as a result of this - this is all new territory. And because I am at Bark, and Bark, as you mentioned, tech company that keeps children safer online and in real life, I have unique insight into data. And the dataset now is over 5.2 million children across the United States, and over 2500 school districts across the US. And this dataset is taking into account that scope of children, their online communications and conversations that are taking place across over 30 social media platforms, email and text messaging. And it's using artificial intelligence to flag when there are issues. And every day, I am reminded of just how much work needs to be done, and how unfortunate it is that we are in this current position. And by "in this current position", I mean: Over 75% of children are either cyberbullied, or are cyberbullying, or witnessing that. It's heartbreaking. We have alerts coming in every day for children who are expressing the desire to die by suicide.

Paul: Right.

Titania: Severe self-harm alerts. Violent alerts. We've escalated, just in the last year, over 450 online predators to law enforcement, so... you know, I can talk for a long time about all of this...

Paul: Yeah.

Titania: ...but I just wanted to give everybody kind of a "where I've been, where I am now, what we do at Bark", and then open it back to you for questions.

Paul: Sure. Sure. No problem. And I think that leads me to: How did you get Bark off the ground? I mean, was it a group of you came together and said, "Right, now we need to take some action. We're seeing the same things..."? You're all aligning on the same thing as parents. I mean, as I- we mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, myself, I'm a parent, I want to see action taken as well. And I think, today's world of- the digital world certainly is out of control, with the young kids today. I've witnessed my thirteen-year-old son engaging with content which I feel is very borderline, even though it's easily accessible on YouTube. So where did that whole thing come from, to say, "Right, we're going to do something about this with Bark"?

Titania: Yeah. So I wish Bark was my idea. It was not. Our CEO, Brian Bason, is a dad of two, and was actually working at Twitter at the time. And his oldest son received a device that could access the internet, and let the internet access his child. And when he began to look at these nuances, knowing what he knew about tech, given his career in social media, and he looked at the landscape of existing options for parental control and monitoring, he saw that there was a major need for something like Bark. Before Bark, there was not anything that was as comprehensive, and less intrusive. You know, if you don't have Bark, your options are: Do nothing, or spot-check your child's devices and accounts. You've got- they've got to hand your their phone, you have to know their password, you can look at all the stuff... That's really, you know, not necessarily conducive to a positive parent-child experience. Very friction-heavy. And, you know, sometimes parents don't even know where to look. They don't know how to navigate Snapchat, no offense to parents.

Paul: Yeah.

Titania: They don't realize that there are things like vault apps that maybe look like a calculator, but are meant to hide photos and screenshots of conversations etc. They might not know that strangers, predators, can send your children direct messages, even if their accounts are private. So taking all of this into account, Brian left Twitter, started Bark July of 2015, and, you know, just a few years ago, we were a small team of eight, and now we're a team of over seventy-three. And it's incredible.

Paul: Yeah. Yeah, and there is really- what I gather is there's a mission statement behind that, where you can get people to care about this to jump on board, like yourself, as you say. It may be not your idea, but they- you see that gap that needs filling. There's something there that needs to be addressed, which nobody else was doing. And I think it's a fantastic start to have something like this available to parents. Especially, you're quite a young company in that respect.

Titania: Yeah.

Paul: From five years. So...

Titania: Yeah. We're a toddler! (inconclusive)

Paul: Yeah! When I look at the numbers, I mean... the surveys that you've done. And I just wanted to bring that survey up - just quickly, on your web page, because when we talk about these particular areas that you mentioned, I think it was- just to take a look of what the children are exposed to...

Titania: Yeah.

Paul: You did a survey last year, 2019.

Titania: Yeah.

Paul: And you analyzed more than 873 million messages, across text, email, YouTube - and we're talking about violence, mental health, cyberbullying, drugs and alcohol, self-harm and suicide, and sexual content. So, you know, there's a lot going on out there, which they're exposed to. And so how is... How is Bark doing this without being too intrusive on your teenage son or daughter, for example? Because if I looked for the signs with my teenager before, I would look for body language, as I'd looked for, "I'm shutting the door going to my room. Don't bother me, dad." That kind of stuff. And you start to see signs of their behavior that may be starting to worry parents, worrying me. But what is it that Bark can do to give you more inside information without being too intrusive for the child?

Titania: Yeah. So I'm glad you asked, because obviously- not obviously, but after I'll say it, it'll be obvious, our goal at Bark is to foster a- an open and honest and candid ongoing conversation between parent and child. So do we suggest you just put Bark on their phones without their knowledge? No. The ideal scenario is that you talk with them and say, "Just like you have to wear a seatbelt when you get in the car, and, you know, you need to wear sunscreen when you're at the beach, or just in the sun, when we allow you to have a device or a gaming platform that can access the world, and let the world access you, there have to be some safety precautions in place. Because there are all these dangers out there, and while you're a good kid, good kids make bad choices and bad things happen to good people, and we've got to just be your digital guardian as well as your in-real-life guardian." So that may or may not go over well. But that's, you know- that- you know, if you're going to be a parent in 2020 or beyond, that's what you have to do.

Paul: Yeah.

Titania: And so after that discussion, and it will be an ongoing discussion, Bark does not give parents and caregivers full unfettered access to all the kids' stuff. Like when I open my Bark app on my phone, I don't get to see everything that's on my son's phone. What I will see is a dashboard of alerts if there are problems. And I mean problems like cyberbullying, sexual content and pornography, if, you know, there are online predators looking to communicate with him or worse, if there are mental health issues, if he's discussing, you know, suicide or ideation, depression, anxiety... or perhaps violent content. That is where Bark is going to alert me. It will give me just a snippet of the problematic content, not the full conversation. And then it will give me best recommended next steps for how to talk to my child, and how to deal with it as a parent. And so... that is much different than other options out there that are just flagging specific obvious keywords, like: gun, marijuana, sex. And the other options out there are also giving, you know, just a copy, a log of everything that is happening, and nobody has time for that. And, you know, it's not easy to help raise a responsible digital native, if you don't give them a bit of room to learn and grow.

Paul: Yeah. And I think that's the point I wanted to also understand myself, as a parent, is: Where do you give that space? There's a fine border between them growing up as a teenager, and having that privacy.

Titania: Yeah.

Paul: Which is what my son did to me at the weekend: "Leave me alone! I'm in my room. That's my room, I'll do what I want in my room!" To looking out for their best interest and welfare about what content they're consuming, and having some visibility on that, so...

Titania: Yeah.

Paul: And I think, before we move onto the next point, is: How is Bark doing that? I mean, we know it's an application, but I- you mentioned keywords, so I'd imagine there is some kind of AI technology behind all of this, right?

Titania: That's right, yeah. We are using artificial intelligence and machine-learning algorithms to constantly train our models to be able to identify the very unique teenspeak and tweenspeak. It's different than how you and I talk to each other. So much so that it's not only analyzing words, but phrases, emojis, memes, audio, video. It's incredible. And full disclosure: I'm not a data scientist, so if you would like to dig more into that, I might not be the best person there. But it's- you know, it's incredible. And our algorithm can actually differentiate context and nuance. For example, KMS - the letters K, M, S - can stand for "kill myself". Now, some children might use that flippantly, like, "Oh my gosh, I'm so embarrassed, KMS, yada, yada, yada." They are not suicidal. We will not alert you in that case, and scare you. But flipside, when it is an actual issue, our algorithm has been able to actually tell the difference there, and that's critical.

Paul: Yeah. Like, "I'm dying" from laughter, it might...

Titania: Right. No Bark alert necessary!

Paul: Yeah. So... yeah. I mean, I know obviously, AI is starting to become more prominent all around us now. But I think also, for those listeners, parents, that are out there, they're still quite new to AI. And what does it mean? Because there's a balance between AI taking over the world, and for the bad things in life, like the Terminator. But there's AI for the good, right?

Titania: Yes, there is.

Paul: So AI in this aspect is for the good.

Titania: Yes. It is.

Paul: And on that, going just a little bit further onto that point: I read an article the other day, on the BBC, about- it wasn't necessarily to do with children, it was to do with adults, around deepfake imagery being used. So basically, your head is being portrayed on an image of a sexual nature. But I can imagine that that is something that's being done as well with sophisticated apps that teenagers get their hands on. Which they think is funny, but which then turns into bullying of some form.

Titania: Yeah.

Paul: Are you able to detect that kind of imagery as well? And pick that up with Bark?

Titania: We are. So let's have an example of just sexual content. So, really anything that is... revealing, or inappropriate in nature. We will flag that. And then we have a scale. So, for example, if you don't want your eight-year-old to receive email communications from Victoria Secret, you know, that's one level. You know, and then as they get older, there's much, much more that they might encounter. And so... it really- it depends on how you have your settings set up. But, yeah, back to deepfakes. I mean, that's just- that speaks to the education that is needed amongst parents, of just what-

Paul: Yeah.

Titania: ...what I'm going to say "bullying" is. Right? We say "cyberbullying", and people think like, "What is that? Like a robot? What is that?" So I'm just going to say "bullying". It has evolved so much. Some of those examples are children creating fake accounts that look like your kid. It's so easy to go online, find a picture of anyone, take a screenshot, upload it to a new social media account, and all of a sudden, there's a profile. And anybody can post anything, pretending to be you. So that's one example of that. And there's also less overt means of bullying that affect someone's mental health, but are still very, very powerful and isolating, You know, if there is a text thread, you know, four kids are on a text thread, and somebody kicks one of them out, now you're excluded. Now you're not in that conversation. Now you can't FaceTime with each other. And it hurts. You know, private accounts - we all know that everybody can follow a certain Instagram account, but they don't approve your follow request, you're left out. And that hurts.

Paul: Yeah. So I think- well, I think we'll go a little bit deeper later on about certain aspects of the online world, because we can go, certainly, into different areas and touch on that. But I know, with Bark, you have- we're talking very much of a parental focus here, both of us being parents, of course.

Titania: Yeah.

Paul: But I see here that you've got something for schools as well. Is that right?

Titania: Yes. Yes.

Paul: So let's just include that as well, because that's an important aspect of the communication. It's not just about the parents, but the teachers and various other things. And I saw something really, I think, heartwarming, for me. Because it was three years ago- this time three years ago, that I was actually in Las Vegas. This is where the shooting happened.

Titania: Yes.

Paul: I saw that you actually posted on your web page that you prevented some shootings in this case.

Titania: Yeah. Sixteen.

Paul: And I'd like to understand... yeah, sixteen shootings. And that- I take it that was maybe put around a school-natured incident? So tell me a little bit more about that. How did you manage to prevent that, using this application? 'Cause that's a phenomenal achievement, in my eyes, to be able to do something like that.

Titania: Yeah. You know, and I'm- I'm so glad you asked. A lot of times, outside of the US, school gun violence is not really an issue. It's very unique to the US, which is unfortunate. But I'm thankful, you know, that other countries do not have to deal with this in the way that we did, before the pandemic. So just, you know, knowing the landscape of US schools, before everybody was schooling from home, is heartbreaking and terrifying. And knowing that- because children were being bullied. You know, that can lead to wanting to retaliate. And when children are communicating these sort of things, when they're searching on Google, you know, "How to load multiple rounds quickly of an AK-47", when children are writing threats, even in handwriting, on a bathroom wall, you know, "Don't come to school tomorrow. Bang, bang!", our algorithm has captured so many different instances of that. Both at schools, on school-issued devices and accounts, and kids' personal devices and accounts, that cumulatively we've been able to escalate sixteen credible school shooting threats to law enforcement that, if not detected, could have led to major tragedy. So we are so thankful for that. And even backing up, so we launched Bark for Schools that is our free program for any school in the US, whether they use Microsoft or Google Suite of applications, you know, to help to protect their students. And we launched that because of the school shooting tragedy in Parkland, Florida. When that happened, we realized - regardless of how you feel about gun rights or politics - there is tech out there that can help alert to signs of danger, because- before they become tragedies. And because we knew we had this, and we knew it was helping families and some pilot schools, we just decided to release it to every school in the nation for free, so that they can help to protect students. And it has proved to work. And, yeah.

Paul: Fantastic. I mean, that's- I think that that's a step in technology which I saw at that time, going back as- I'm trying to understand is how did this person manage to get his hands on so many automatic or semi-automatic rifles and bring them into- to the- without anybody picking that up? And is it because they- the stores or the shops are siloed with that kind of data? And with your application, you're basically picking up even - correct me if I'm wrong - searches of that nature within Google or something like that. Somebody wants to acquire a weapon or wants to understand how they acquire a weapon, and you're flagging that up to- on the dashboard, right?

Titania: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there are- more often than not, these things don't just happen one day. There are- there's a digital signal that is given, even if it's just a child's private Instagram account that has ten followers. Somebody saw something. Somebody's posting something. There are searches, there are chats. And if we can tap into those, and get that child or that family the help they need, it's just so much better.

Paul: Yeah. So tell me a little bit more about the schools, before we go into more- deep aspects of what's out there, the dangers of the online world. How is- how is Bark helping schools, or the teachers in the schools as well? Is it in the same kind of way that parents have a dashboard, or is it slightly different there?

Titania: It's... it's the same and different.

Paul: Right.

Titania: So, yeah. It's different in that: Bark for schools is monitoring school-issued devices and accounts. So if your school does not have Bark, your principal, your school counselor, your IT director... is responsible for making sure the tech that the children access is safe. There are filters in place. Kids are not using Google Docs to bully each other. Or they're not sending inappropriate images through school email accounts. It's a big job for anyone. And so Bark enables those critical stakeholders to do that job at scale, versus manually spot-checking or waiting for a problem to be brought to their attention and having to go dig for it. You know, this goes back to education, but a lot of parents just assume, "Oh, I'm sending my kid to school. Clearly they have made the tech safe for them. " You know. "Clearly they can't do bad things online, and access bad things, and be mean to each other and..." No, tech is powerful. Kids are smart. Predators are smart.

Paul: Yeah.

Titania: We had an instance where a predator reached out to some eleven-year-old girls, and was having communications with them, through a school-issued device and account. So it's critical. And the difference between that and our parent product, which is not free, but, you know, the parent product is managing and monitoring the personal devices and accounts. So the school can't monitor your child's cell phone while they're at school. But if your child is logged into their school Gmail account on their phone, that's where there can be a bit of a grey area.

Paul: Yeah. And, of course, kids are smart. So they know the difference between the school and their own personal device.

Titania: Oh, yes!

Paul: So, Titania, I would like to come a bit further in now into understanding something we just mentioned before in the podcast is that there are a lot of threats out there, and these are the ones that are the most common ones. Let's think about the more subtle ones, where me, as I mentioned before, as a parent, probably yourself as well, a little bit more concerned about the content that's being constantly fed in to the likes of your YouTube and... Is Bark also managing let's say screen time on a particular application? These kind of things. And what's your feeling around that? I mean, we're talking about the borderline here around privacy, obviously security and protection. And how much exposure your children can have. Because- I'll give you an example: My son watches a lot of YouTube. There's no denying the fact.

Titania: Yeah. Same.

Paul: He watches YouTube. He's on YouTube more than any terrestrial television. He doesn't- and his attention span is about ten to fifteen minutes, before he moves on to the next influencer. But what I've started to notice is the- of course, the tracking's there. And the advertisements are there. And the suggestions that are being fed up's there. And it's like: I feel like he's starting to get caught into a bubble.

Titania: Yeah.

Paul: Yeah? So- and is Bark able to counteract that? What's your feelings around that, first of all? And secondly, is Bark able to do something that- with that, to help the parent, to raise that level of awareness for a parent?

Titania: Yeah, I mean, Bark can not only monitor or alert you to problematic content, and- depending on what you prefer to be alerted about, but it can also just limit screen time and filter access. So my son has TikTok on his phone. If I don't want him to access it after ten o'clock at night, I can manage that through Bark. If I don't want him to access the app at all, even though it's on his phone, I can shut off access to just that or all social media. It's really, really cool, the filters and customizations that the Bark application allows you to have as a parent, for a variety of use cases. So yes, Bark can help with that. Just regarding what kids are being fed: It's such an echo chamber. I mean, as you know, again, back to the US problems: We've got a bit... a bit of an interesting election coming up.

Paul: Yeah.

Titania: And very, very interesting leaders. Very polarizing time in our country. And a lot of misinformation that is being fed to kids, through social media. And we've got an issue with just inaccurate news. You know, it's not only our aunts and uncles that are sharing inaccurate things on Facebook, it's now our kids being radicalized to whatever agenda they've fallen in the rabbit hole of content curation for. So it's imperative that we as parents and caregivers talk to our children about finding, you know, multiple sources of verification. If you see something on TikTok or Snapchat or Twitter or Instagram, and it resonates with you, fact-check it! Find another source. And you know what? Find even a second and third source to see: Is that true? Or is it perhaps more left- or right-leaning? Or is it just totally false?

Paul: Yeah.

Titania: You know, we have to help our children understand that anyone- if any human can create content, it is prone to error.

Paul: Yeah. Yeah. I totally agree. Because while we don't have the same kind of political issues, if I think more closer to home - although I'm not there, in the U.K. - we have, of course, Brexit coming up, we have other polarizing issues right now with COVID situation, with certain parts of the country being locked down. I was wondering as well, when we look at the- look at this, I mean, when I look at my boy is: How is he coping with the COVID situation? Because it's not so visible for him, but earlier on in the year, he was doing homeschooling, and I thought that would impact him, not seeing his friends and things like that. I mean, again, maybe not just about Bark, but certainly just having on-topic here about COVID bringing around changes in the way that they're growing up. And, obviously, fact is: They could be driven more online, because they're stuck at home...

Titania: Yeah.

Paul: ...more of the time. And parents tend to be a little bit more forgiving, because of the situation, right? So...

Titania: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, before the pandemic, parents were, you know, dealing with guilt and uncertainty just around, "How much screen time is ok?" And, "When do I give my kid a smartphone?" And, "At what age do I let them play Fortnite and Minecraft?" Etc.

Paul: Right.

Titania: Then the pandemic happened, and we're all... just kind of like in survival mode. And it's one thing if you think this is only going to last for a month, but now it's been many months. And so you have to reevaluate your strategies. Children, if they're virtually learning, have no choice but to be in front of a screen. And so you have to make sure that they are having adequate breaks. Kids are not meant to sit still, or sit, you know, for eight hours a day. They need to move, for their mental and physical health. You know, and then, on top of that, if they need- if they want to socialize with their friends, and you are not in a safe, you know, pod of people that have been social distancing and are not sick, it can be very isolating, if they don't have access to screens and gaming and social media. So you have to really evaluate, now more than ever, just how much screen time, what screen time, is it adding value to their life? Are they connecting with other people, or are they just kind of passively consuming content? You know, creating content and consuming content are very different things. And so, above all, this is new. Nobody knows, right? Nobody knows what's going to be the end- end result. But we do know this: More than two hours at a time is not healthy for children. So they need breaks. And you've got to keep an eye on your child's mental health. Because it can be negatively impacted by too much screen time and the negativity of social media.

Paul: Yeah. And expanding on that topic - again, there was something that we just briefly discussed before we the podcast is: I've seen in the U.K. particularly, they're talking about a code of conduct for children, a code of contact for those people- those companies that are developing software out there.

Titania: Yes.

Paul: Of course, we only had- we had the user, let's put it this way, the user in mind. And the user could be defined as somebody that could be 10 years old, it could be 40, 50 years old. And now, what I'm starting to see is that there is more awareness out there about: We should be designing software applications with different segments involved, especially for young- younger children as well. You mentioned teens. And there's tweens, which was- is quite new to me. But I take it they're pre-teens?

Titania: Yeah. Eight to- eight to twelve years old.

Paul: Yeah. And about how they engage with software. Because I see many kids. I must admit, it's easy to give a child a phone and keep them entertained with a few, you know, cartoons and what-have-you on YouTube. But, of course, there are other things in there... What responsibil- I mean, Bark is one thing, but what- on the wider issue, do you think there should be something like a code, for the US as well, about how software is being developed for young- young- young kids and especially that (inconclusive)?

Titania: Absolutely. I mean, I know the movie "The Social Dilemma" has been all the conversation right now, on Netflix. And one of the most compelling quotes from that movie was, you know, "There are only two industries that call their consumers 'users'."

Paul: Yeah.

Titania: "The drug industry and technology." That tells you all, really, a lot of what you need to know right there. If there was a food or a beverage that excited that area of the brain in children that tech does, it would be regulated. Tech should not be any different. The pleasure centers of your brain that are responsible for serotonin and dopamine and addiction are affected by technology, whether it's the lights or the gamification or what-have-you. Children's brains are developing. They're very, very impressionable. We have to be responsible stewards of technology, just like we are with drugs, alcohol, food etc.

Paul: Yeah. And I think you led to, you know, at the very beginning of the conversation, you mentioned that in our time, 80s, maybe I'm going back to late 70s, 80s, as we- you know, it's a totally different world out there now.

Titania: Yes!

Paul: And I must admit that, you know, when my boy was younger, I was kind of oversightful about all of these things. But raising this awareness and the subtle manipulation that is going on by technologies, to keep people online, to keep them addicted - which is part of "The Social Dilemma" story - is real. You know, it's out there. And sometimes, I think, we just overlook that.

Titania: Yeah.

Paul: And it's good that Bark has got that dashboard to be able to give that visibility. It's like: This is how much screen time your kids are being exposed to, so... What other threats do you see out there, which I haven't raised, which are concerning for you and maybe that Bark's going to address or tackle next?

Titania: Yeah, there's a few. There's a lot. But a few I'll specifically talk about right now. I mentioned earlier in the show: online predation. You know, before, when we were growing up, in order to be abused by an adult as a child, you had to actually be in the same room with them. Now that doesn't have to be the case. A child can be sexually abused just through media, through images that they have been sent, messages that have been sent to them, or solicited from them. And that's really hard to process, but it's reality. On top of that, at Bark we've seen a 23% increase in alerts that we've sent around online predation. And so because these terrible people know that kids are at home and on screens more, and they themselves are at home and on screens more, that that issue is on the rise, unfortunately. And so that just makes me sick. And we have to do more there and raise awareness there. Just because there is such a stigma, and we've got to reduce the stigma there. Additionally, self-image, self-confidence. You know, to be a teenager and growing into your body and growing into your brain, it's so hard. And confidence is everything. And if you are basing your self-worth and your value as a human on how many likes, how many comments, how many followers you have, that's a very, very dangerous slope. And particularly for, I would say, young women, or anybody who's very body-conscious, if you're comparing your developing body to a perfect image of a filtered waist and no acne and fill-in-the-blank, right? It's just not a fair comparison. And so we have got to do more to highlight our real lives online, so there isn't this perfect, yet unattainable image of them that everybody's striving for that leaves us all ultimately miserable. I mean, it's hard for an adult. But think about a child. It's- it's very hard. And so eating disorders, body dysmorphia, self-confidence, mental health tied to those things is a very key issue that we're working on at Bark, and for an education standpoint.

Paul: Yeah. And at Bark, I mean, have you seen any- a question that I wanted to kind of come back to, with what we mentioned earlier around the COVID situation, has the COVID situation, from what you've seen, affected- or understand, affected younger people during the COVID pandemic? During this situation now? Between a certain age group that may be the later teens? Because, you know, there's all this negativity flowing through the economy right now, with job prospects, employment prospects... Are you seeing that as well?

Titania: We are. One thing that has been really troubling to note is that, you know, child abuse happens. Whether it's sexual or not. And a lot of times it's happening within the home, through people that they know and love. And when children used to be able to go to school, sometimes schoolteachers and counselors could notice that, you know, bruises or something, right? There was a way to help identify children in need. Now the kids are stuck at home, with their abusers, who themselves are maybe even more stressed out because of the economy, because of politics. It's not a good situation. And so children are even more in danger. We are sending even more alerts around abuse. And it's heartbreaking.

Paul: Yeah. Yeah. No, I totally agree that these are challenging times... for everybody, of course, but certainly for the young people as well. Do you see- I mean, do you break the segments up with, I mean, you say "tweens", and then you say "teens". When you say "teens", are we keeping it in the category of like twelve to eight- or thirteen to eighteen or...?

Titania: Thirteen to seventeen.

Paul: Would you say that- seventeen? Yeah, okay. So, they're- yeah, okay. Alright, I just want us to carry on a little bit further about what the future is for Bark, because you've got this AI technology, which is really interesting. How far do you think that can go in helping address more issues that you've mentioned already today? Like cyberbullying and things that... Do you think there's still room for it to even- expand even more? I know you're not a data scientist, but what's the scene in light- generally, in the Bark community there? Is it that there's great potential there to be able to address more issues or expand further?

Titania: Yeah. I mean, there really is. You know, right now, we have focused our algorithms on English and Spanish. But there is- you know, there's Japanese, there's German, there's Italian... there's a million languages out there and cultures that are dealing with the same dynamic. And so just in terms of language and AI training to those specific nuances of both language and culture, a lot of opportunity there. Also, just in surfacing trends, you know, right now, because of this election coming up in the US, you know, we can see certain things happening, an increasing anxiety and/or depression. And then once the election happens, depending on who wins, there's a lot to take into effect there. From a public health perspective, what we can do to help children who are in need, before they get to crisis mode, before they show up to the ER, there's a lot of innovation and... work that I'm very hopeful about that can happen there. And also from a law enforcement standpoint, to- there just aren't enough law enforcement professionals out there to take care of all the bad that's out there, so...

Paul: Yeah. And do you- I mean, again, we mentioned this before the- we went live, is: Hopefully, you're going to get yourself over to Europe, or maybe other expansion areas as well.

Titania: Yes.

Paul: I mean, I'd love to see you guys here. I'd be one of your first advocates, for sure. But where do you see next? I mean, obviously, you want to be able to conquer the US market in support of as many parents as possible. But, you know, what's on the horizon, in- expansion-wise?

Titania: Yeah, I mean... It's just that. It's getting our algorithm and models in a good place for multiple languages, multiple cultures, other countries. You know, there is still so much work to be done here...

Paul: Yeah.

Titania: ..in the US. But all children, all families, deserve this level of protection. So we're working hard to get it to as many families as we can, in the best way that works for them.

Paul: Okay. Okay. We're coming to the end of our time, unfortunately.

Titania: I know!

Paul: 'Cause I think it's a topic we could carry on with for some time.

Titania: Yeah.

Paul: But maybe we can get you back on the show again in the future, and see how things have developed with Bark.

Titania: Yeah.

Paul: But any other insights or final words that you'd like to add and- before we close up?

Titania: Yeah. You know, one thing I would love to- actually, there is three things...

Paul: Okay.

Titania: ... that I want to leave people with who are listening, to give them a bit of hope and next steps. So, the first thing is: You have definitely, probably, heard of "The Social Dilemma" documentary on Netflix. But you may not have heard of a documentary called "Childhood 2.0". It is free for anyone, it's on YouTube. It has been seen by over half a million people so far. And it is like "The Social Dilemma", but with a specific focus on kids. What is "Childhood 2.0"? What is childhood like now? What is it like to be a kid growing up in the tech world, and what is really happening there? It's... it's powerful. So it's a free resource anybody can access. The second thing is that even though Bark is not available outside of the US right now, Facebook is. And there is a really great group on Facebook called "Parenting in a Tech World". It has, gosh, close to 90,000 parents in there, from all over the world, talking about these issues. And that is so key for us right now, because as parents who are the first generation of parents figuring this all out together, we need each other now more than ever. And if we can't get together in real life for coffee or a beer or just a cry, you know, we got to turn to these Facebook groups.

Paul: Yeah.

Titania: And then finally, my colleague Matt McKee and I have co-authored a book called "Parenting in a Tech World". It is not free, but it is on Amazon, and not only do we have a print version, but a... audio book and an eBook coming out, so... yeah, hopefully that content can help.

Paul: Yeah. All good plugs there. But it's a valid cause, and, you know, I really enjoyed having the opportunity to talk to you. And it's something that's very close to my heart, right now.

Titania: Yes.

Paul: And I think, hopefully, we can get this content out there from both organizations and spread the word about one, you know, what is it your children are doing online, and secondly, you know, how to be able to support parents, which is basically what you're doing here, at Bark, to be able to engage with your children around this plethora of technologies and the vulnerabilities and the threats that are out there.

Titania: Yeah.

Paul: Titania, it's been fantastic talking to you! I really appreciate you coming on the show. I wish you all the best with Bark and the books. And I'm going to check that- the "Childhood 2.0" out.

Titania: Yes! Let me know what you think.

Paul: And hopefully, some time in the future- yeah, I'm going to let you know! I'll drop you a line, so...

Titania: Okay. Alright, good.

Paul: Yeah, we'll connect. And I hope that- yeah, that this really takes off. And I look forward to seeing it in Europe in the near future. Thanks a lot!

Titania: Thank you! Thank you so much. I'll- take good care! Stay safe! And I can't wait to talk to you again.

Paul: Yeah. Take care of that dog! It's been a- co-partner in the... okay, take care then! Bye, bye!

Titania: Bye, bye.

Paul: And that is all for today's episode of "under CTRL". You can find links to all our social platforms and to our guest in the episode description. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe and leave a review. Join me again in two weeks' time for the next episode.