So-called ‘sexts’ sent by children in the UK have rocketed by 183 per cent during lockdown with a 55 per cent rise in sexts drafted during normal school hours, cyber security outfit SafeToNet said.
The foundation has analysed and filtered around 70 million potentially harmful messages sent by children using its safeguarding app and found girls are sending the majority of worrying messages.
Girls, aged 11, and 13-year-old boys attempted to post the greatest proportion of sexts and messages identified as cyber-bullying, but the app stopped messages being sent from girls as young as six and boys aged nine.
Founder Richard Pursey believes his cyber safety app is the only device to track threats to children in real time and said safeguarding software should be on every child’s phone.
Developed in consultation with more than 2,000 children, it uses artificial intelligence and behavioural analytics to balance the child’s right to privacy with the “primal need of a parent to keep their child safe”.
The SafeToNet Foundation is offering UK parents a million free licences which can be downloaded via a link on the Government’s online safety advice page from Thursday.
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Mr Pursey, a 58-year-old father of four from Kensington, west London, told the PA news agency children are killing themselves daily due to online activity and he has been left “scarred” by viewing some of the material.
He said: “This is happening pretty much every day around the world, and I know it’s happening. And I don’t know these children, but I know today, some children will take their lives.
“And that’s because of things like bullying and sexting, not necessarily because of grooming, it’s just kids being nasty to kids.”
Mr Pursey said he has seen a video of an 11-year-old girl killing herself and of a man blowing his head off with an automatic rifle circulated by UK children.
The app’s AI technology detects linguistic patterns on the device but stores no data on cloud platforms, meaning nobody ever sees what the child is typing or what they are seeing, while the user is kept anonymous.
Installed by the child, it replaces the phone’s native keyboard with SafeToNet’s safeguarding keyboard which flashes amber when a threat is detected in the their typing, educating them in the moment to help stop harmful outgoing messages.
The keyboard will turn red and stop children from sending potentially dangerous messages if the risky behaviour persists or increases.
Parents are also notified that their child may be at risk, but do not see the content of any messages, encouraging dialogue with their child.
The app also directs children who may be feeling anxious or upset to wellbeing resources to help them pause before sending something rash, and has an emotions diary.
While it currently only analyses keyboard strokes, the company will be rolling out video and image screening later this year.