Keeping Kids Safe With IMSafer

by alec on October 2, 2006

Congressman Mark Foley’s explicit IM exchanges with underage house pages have become public, revealing him as little more than a common-a-garden pedophile.  Naturally, he’s had to resign.  It’s big news down south, but the truth is that it could happen anywhere.

For every Mark Foley out there, there are a hundred lesser known predators, many of whom go undetected. They lurk in chat rooms, grooming young victims to eventually meet with them in person.  My friend (and recent parent) Brandon Watson has started a company to deal with that issue. Tomorrrow, they’ll release their flagship product, IMSafer.  IMSafer is an unobtrusive IM monitoring tool for parents.  It lurks in the background on any PC, discretely monitoring IM traffic, and uses lexical analysis techniques — the same techniques used by law enforcement – to look for the telltale signs that your child is having an exchange with a sexual predator. If it finds those signs, it alerts you, the adult, so you can intervene before it’s too late.

The IMSafer service also allows parents to leave feedback on people they believe are having inappropriate conversations with their child.  This feedback allows IMSafer to be even more proactive in alerting parents about potentially inappropriate online relationships.  As more parents get involved, the stronger the service becomes.

What I, as a parent, found most appealing was that IMSafer respects the privacy of kids at the same time.  The IM logs are not available to the parent — only suspect exchanges.  IMSafer explains the reasons, in their FAQ, as follows:

19. Why can’t I read the entire IM chat log?
At the end of the day, we want kids to support this product. If you want to spy on them, this is not the right product. If you want to give them room to grow and mature, and be there when they get into trouble, this is the perfect product for you. If enough of our customers demand this functionality, we might add it as a premium option, but for now, we want kids to feel like their parents aren’t snooping everything they are doing, and therefore not looking to turn off the software or find ways around it. We’ve made it very hard for them to do so, but kids are clever.

I’ve been playing with this for the last few days.  It does work, as advertised, and it’s completely unobtrusive when running.   And luckily, none of my kids are at risk. 

Kudos to Brandon and his team!  Great job.

If you’re a parent, and you want to know more about this technology, head to www.imsafer.com.  The product will be available, at no charge, starting tomorrow at 8 AM.

UPDATE: Techcrunch picked up the story a few minutes ago too, as did CNET’s Rafe Needlman, 21Talks, Stowe Boyd, Randy Morin (who implores you to DIGG the story!) VoIP Girl, Geek In Gear, Don’t Eat the Shrimp, Identity Woman, and TechTrek.  Congrats Brandon and team!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Leanne Tremblay October 3, 2006 at 9:38 am

Thanks Alec for the heads up on this product. Parents should be on top of what their kids are doing on the Internet. In our house, the family PC is in the kitchen so we can see what they're doing online all the time. No computers in the bedrooms.

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Alec October 3, 2006 at 9:42 am

Well, we have PC's in the bedrooms, but our solution so far has been to ban the younger kids from having email and IM accounts. There are seven of us, and probably as many PCs in the house, which makes it nearly impossible to put them all in one place.

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Jai August 27, 2007 at 2:12 am

This IMSafer really is a life saver. I don't know there is such a thing. Thank you Alec.

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