Protecting our kids has never been harder, and the internet is one of the main reasons for that. It’s also something we can’t live without.
The internet has become a hunting ground for predators, who lurk on social media sites hoping to take advantage of unsuspecting tweens and teens.
Gilbert-based startup Cyber Dive has built an app that’s designed to be a secret weapon against those predators. The company’s founders say that their goal is to literally change the world by giving parents the information they need to understand and protect their kids.
Cyber Dive’s app allows parents to monitor multiple social media accounts including Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Google, YouTube, VSCO and Discord, all on one platform.
Their mission, says Cyber Dive co-founder and CEO Jeff Gottfurcht, is to “stop social media from becoming a social disaster.”
The app aggregates all the information from a child’s social media profiles and frames it in a digestible way, using things like word clouds and friend-tracking widgets. For example, a parent could check in to see if their child is repeating negative words, like “depressed” or “suicide,” or making new, questionable friends online.
The app’s dashboard provides insight into what a child is saying online, who they are interacting with, how active they are on specific social platforms, what they are searching for online and more. Parents then have the data they need to make decisions about how to help their child.
Gottfurcht was first inspired to address the problem of online predators after hearing a particularly tragic story of a girl who was trafficked and sexually assaulted because of social media.
His drive to find a solution continued to grow, but he knew he would need an expert in internet intelligence and security. When he looked at others trying to do what he wanted to do, they didn’t have the right people with the right expertise. Gottfurcht says the other companies relied on computer engineers who were just out of school and had no real-world experience.
Getting the right people was the first place Gottfurcht wanted to start. He knew of three main groups who investigate information online — investigative journalists, law enforcement and the military. He needed a member of one of those groups to help him.
Gottfurcht finally got a lead while climbing Mount Everest, of all places. He met a couple military men who said they knew a guy who’d worked in online intelligence. Gottfurcht made it to the top as the first person in the world to summit with rheumatoid arthritis. When he got home, he contacted Derek Jackson — the man who would become his co-founder.
Jackson previously served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. He worked as a military intelligence officer whose work focused on the social media activity of U.S. adversaries and radical insurgents. In his years in the military, Jackson learned that social media is where all the darkest plans take place.
When Gottfurcht and Jackson met in person, they agreed they both had the same goal — protect children from online predators. The two partnered up in January 2019 and officially became a company in May 2019. They launched the app in March 2020, right as COVID-19 was hitting the U.S.
Their little company survived the challenges of the pandemic, partially because the internet became even more important to daily life. In fact, the number of predators accessing children online increased since the quarantine began, according to Ending Human Trafficking.
Cyber Dive now has 18 employees and about 42,000 customers and they expect it to keep growing. They launched a premium version, which costs $5 a month, at the end of February. Still, they want their app to be affordable and, just like 911, ultimately available to everyone who wants it.
“We envision a day where, when a kid gets a new phone, Cyber Dive is on it,” says Gottfurcht.
While every parent won’t necessarily have a child who is groomed, Cyber Dive allows peace of mind. It also helps all parents recognize when any child might be in danger.
Gottfurcht and Jackson hope that Cyber Dive will become the “north star of content moderation for parents.”
“If your children are on social media and you aren’t on Cyber Dive,” says Gottfurcht, “what are you missing?”