With all of the opportunities for young people unlocked by the Social Web also comes an increase in potential pitfalls — even dangers.
Steven L. Woda learned that firsthand. A child in his own family, 14 years old at the time, friended someone online who turned out to be a predator. The child was physically unharmed and the predator is now serving time, Woda said. But it was a wake-up call.
"This person was using the social networks as his own personal hunting ground for kids, looking for opportunities and weaknesses," Woda said.
Such predators take advantage of a young person's nature to build their number of friends, which can give the impression of increased popularity, and the naivete that leads them to "pour their hearts out," posting sometimes the most personal details about themselves online, he said.
And so the idea for uKnow.com came to be.
"We help moms and dads keep their kids safe from bullies online and on mobile phones," said Woda, who co-founded the startup with his brother, Tim.
The product, uKnowKids, pulls data from around the Web together in one place and presents it to parents in a way that's understandable — who their child's top 10 friends are, for instance, or how many photos he or she uploads a day, or how often they send text messages.
The software then mines the data for references to things like sex, drugs and violence.
"We pull these needles out of the haystack and give them to mom and dad," Woda said. "Most parents don't want to snoop. They want the big picture. But if they want to go deep, they can."
Sometimes, that pays off. Just the other day, Woda said a woman called asking for help understanding their software. The uKnow team walked her through how to use it — and discovered the woman's 15-year-old daughter was posting nude photographs of herself on Tumblr under her own name.
The Woda brothers see it as business intelligence for parents.
"We come at this product from a safety and security standpoint," Woda said. "For moms and dads, it's about more than that — it's how do you manage a digital child?"
The company launched about a year ago and has raised about $1.5 million in capital so far.
The business is housed in UberOffices in Rosslyn. This week, the uKnow team was working on its Windows 8 application. The business markets its products to individuals and works with about six companies to power other products.
"Our goal is to give moms and dads a bird's-eye view of what's going on in their kids' online world," Steven Woda said.