A company called SocialShield has launched new technology aimed at keeping children and teens safe on social networking sites like Facebook. Using patent-pending "Safety Engines", the service scans a child's social networking profile to look for inappropriate, dangerous or otherwise suspicious content or behavior. When it finds questionable material, parents are alerted immediately via email.

Protecting Children on Social Networks with SocialShield

SocialShield works across a number of sites, including popular outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. But it also supports several other social networks available today, like MySpace, Flickr, Photobucket - even LinkedIn - and dozens more.

Wait, kids wouldn't be on LinkedIn, the business networking site for adults, would they? No, probably not. But their new "friend" may be. SocialShield will actually check the friends a child adds against a number of databases, including LinkedIn, Costco.com's customer list and lists of registered sex offenders in order to determine if a child's friend is who they say they are. If, for example, if a child's new friend is found on LinkedIn, they might not be the 13-year old boy they claim to be. In total, one hundred different data points are used to in these comparisons.

In addition to friend verification, also included in the $99-a-year service are tools for parents like cyberbullying detection and reputation management.

Parents are alerted if their child is a victim of cyberbullying (or is the bully), and the service even goes so far as to assist the parents of victims in identifying the cyberbully, documenting the problem incident and reporting the bully to a school, his or her parents, and law enforcement, if necessary.

Meanwhile, SocialShield's reputation management service looks for potentially risky behavior on the child's part, including the posting of inappropriate photos or other content that could hurt the child's future job search efforts or college acceptance. In these cases, the algorithm itself doesn't make the determination about what's considered "risky," it's left up the parents to decide. The service simply alerts parents photos have been posted.

PTA Backs SocialShield

This news of the service's launch comes on the heels of a Facebook partnership with the National PTA, "a formal collaboration geared towards kids, parents and teachers to promote responsible and safe Internet use," notes the social networking site in a company press release posted June 10. Both organizations will utilize their respected resources to raise awareness as well as provide tools and resources regarding online safety, good citizenship and cyberbullying.

But being aware of the problem is only half the battle, the other half is taking action. Today, that means parents often obtain their child's social networking password, and then have to scan the site on a regular basis in order to stay informed of the child's activities. Socialshield automates this process, a benefit not only to time-crunched parents but also to those who aren't as tech-savvy as their children.

Comparisons with Other Services

Although no automated service is going to be 100% effective, something like SocialShield is considered a worthy enough solution that the PTA has partnered with the company.

Like its primary competitor, SafetyWeb, SocialShield requires no software installation - the service is completely online. But SocialShield claims it can access private data, too, while SafetyWeb focuses more on what's publicly available. The company also claims it will offer a more comprehensive educational community via its Knowledge Center which will connect parents with experts like best-selling author and former bullying victim, Jodee Blanco, as well as psychologists and law enforcement officials for help in understanding what to look for and what to do when troubling content is found. At the moment, however, the Center is sparse in comparison to SafetyWeb's, which houses dozens of articles in addition to an informative company blog. The pricing for both services is the same as well: $10 per month (or $99 a year for SocialShield if paying annually). But it's the PTA endorsement that may be SocialShield's biggest selling point, at least until more comparative testing can be done between the two services.

Free Trial

SocialShield has been in beta testing since April and publicly launched just this week. The name "SocialShield" has also been associated with another, similar company in the past, but that was a different entity altogether, with a different board of directors.

Interested parents can sign up for SocialShield here and try it for 14 days, free of charge.