For about a year now, Ron Curbs’ company has been working on a monitoring device that eavesdrop on online multiplayer chat and tries to provide helpful heads-up to parents who are concerned about their children’s online behavior or their safety. Curbs understands that he’s trying to thread a small needle: parents won’t find his solution, called Kidas, useful in pinging you every time someone says a bad word. So there are some amusing false positives going on right now.
A few weeks ago, he says, a Kidas device started a disturbing conversation among young people in a test home. No curses, but mockery and threats were exchanged. In this case, a human analyst investigates the incident and determines whether the parents should be notified.
“The child actually played Harass,Curbs laughed. “We were basically made aware of a situation that happened in the game itself.” The player was in Xbox Live party chat as in single player, and Kidas confused the game’s dialogue with an online confrontation.
These are the types of dropouts you need to get when building something as ambitious as the idea of Curbs: a solution that will help keep kids safe and happy online without waving their fingers or invading their privacy . It’s had enough success, via a close-knit beta in fewer than 100 Xbox households, to spark interest and support from large startup incubators. The newest is Comcast NBCUniversals Lift Labs
Philadelphia-based Kidas is a 10-person startup dedicated to something that bigger players took up in smaller measures over the past year. Electronic Arts, this summer, introduced a number of new standards both for himself and for his players to create healthier online communities in his huge multiplayer games. The new PlayStation 5 has a feature that records chat dialogues to help moderators review complaints about verbal abuse or other code of conduct violations. And just a week ago, Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo signed a pledge to make video games safer, especially for their younger gamers.
Kidas technology is primarily aimed at parents, especially parents who don’t think what these companies are saying is enough, nor does it appeal to the better angels of our online nature. After serving in the Israeli military, he came up with the idea for Kidas, where he developed threat detection solutions for the country’s Central Intelligence Unit. Originally, Curbs told Polygon that Kidas intends to monitor social media traffic in general. But that was just too big to manage.
“We decided to switch from social media to gaming. [where] Voice calls are very difficult to monitor, ”said Curbs. “Based on the current technology, we knew from experience that we had the technical skills to do this. We made up our minds to target something that no one has done before, to monitor these voice conversations very closely and to bring these cases to the attention of parents. “
“When Ron first joined our program, Kidas wasn’t just about gaming,” said Danielle Cohn, vice president of Lift Labs. “It was more of a general product. What he discovered was that there was a real need in gaming. […] Sometimes when you create and launch a product you are trying to do too much at once. I think Ron is smart about where to start playing. And if he can dive really deep into the game and perfect it and test it there, it can have wider uses. “
When asked what makes Kidas different, Curbs mentioned concepts such as neural networks and machine learning. Obviously, it would have to rely on very sophisticated and ever-changing code to differentiate between children innocently talking trash and something that would definitely bring a parent into the room – threats of violence, degrading language, or prompts from a predator.
What is important is that he does not intend the device to be a nanny in the playroom. Kidas as a product requires that one of the parents involved has discussions with their child. And Kidas itself gives them a lot more than a chat log with keywords triggering their sensors. “We’re not going to alert parents every time someone sets someone on fire in a chat,” said Curbs. “We will make parents aware of repeated bullying and cases where their child is even exposed to bullying [if it’s] To influence him or her psychologically and thereby even change their appreciation. “
Curb wouldn’t tell how many households are in Kidas ongoing beta (just that they have a long waiting list). However, given the depth of interaction Kidas relies on to craft their warnings and cues so that parents actually get useful information, the size cannot be large. For his part, Cohn sees that Kidas has already achieved this goal. “What impressed me the most is the feedback he has received from some parents who have tried this,” she said. “It’s still in its infancy, but it’s certainly an exciting place that will bring some calm too.”
Kidas currently has some obvious limitations – it initially only works with an Xbox One or Xbox Series X. The dongle solution is required even if it was created with off-the-shelf hardware, as Curbs and Kidas do not have access to the Xbox Live’s closed environment Network from Microsoft. Ideally, he says, one day they will and Kidas will be software that runs on the console itself.
Equally important, Curbs said, is to present Kidas as a helper, not something whose presence says that video games are a bad or dangerous thing at first sight for parents or children.
“Our goal is not to tell [parents]”OK, he shouldn’t be playing Xbox or PlayStation anymore,” said Curbs, himself a fan who grew up with a love of video games. “Our goal is to provide you with tools that you can use to talk to your child about this topic and make it understandable. “What are the right tactics to deal with these people?”