SocialShield, a startup that helps parents monitor their kids’ online behavior without violating kids’ privacy, raised a $10 million series A investment, the company announced today. Venrock and U.S. Venture Partners led the investment, and were joined by angel investors Russell Fradin, Larry Braitman, George Garrick, Craig Sherman and Rick Thompson.
SocialShield gives parents high level visibility into what kids are doing, and who they’re interacting with online and via mobile phone. The San Bruno, Calif. company sells its cloud-based, software as a service for $5 to $10 per kid per month.
The company’s founder Arad Rostampour said he came up with the concept for SocialShield in 2009 as more of his friends with kids began to worry about social media:
“Kids, especially 12- to 17-year-olds in the U.S., are sharing an amazing amount of content publicly that they never would have before. They are openly talking about violence and drugs. They’ll share details about when they’re not home, or when their family is going on a vacation and where. All of that sharing can make them vulnerable to people in their community who may be bullies, and to people who are not direct friends, who might have bad intentions. Our service lets parents know what’s going on there, who is contacting their kid, and what data’s being shared.”
Disclosure: One of SocialShield’s largest customers is AOL – which recently acquired TechCrunch. Social Shield’s technology is the engine behind AOL’s SafeSocial features. Typically, however, the company sells its software as a service direct to families.
A general partner at Venrock, Brian Ascher, believes SocialShield could be the Symantec of social media. “You’d be crazy to put your computer online without antivirus or spyware protection. Parents have come to appreciate they’d be crazy to put their kids on the web, on social media, on Facebook, Twitter, and so on without some form of protection and monitoring or guidance,” Ascher said.
The investor also lauded SocialShield’s product-centric approach. “The [founders] chose to integrate their product more deeply into the social networks than anything else out there, and get access to the richest data sets…We thought they would deliver a superior experience to both the parents and the kids. It’s important that the kids feel good about this product,” Ascher said.
SocialShield requires that parents and kids both opt-in to use it. In its current iteration, SocialShield monitors kids’ picture sharing, social gaming and other social activity on networks that kids use the most (currently Facebook, Myspace and Twitter). Rather than giving parents access to kids’ accounts or copies of their online communications, Social Shield sends parents alerts when activity indicates potential danger.
If a kid’s discussions and status updates use words that indicate substance abuse, bullying, or suicidal thinking a parent will get alerts about this and hopefully counsel their kids, and intervene as necessary. If kids interact with or are contacted by strangers — especially someone who doesn’t share any friends in common within their known, online community, or whose name appears on a sex offender registry — parents will get an alert and opportunity to prevent a potential problem.
Rostampour left H-P to start SocialShield with co-founder Noah Kindler in 2009, but neither takes the chief executive title at the company. Rostampour said Social Shield plans to use its new-found capital to hire a CEO, but also to continue researching the needs of parents, online behavior and associated risks for kids, and to evolve the company’s algorithms and “alert engine” technology as kids begin to access social networks via mobile web, and to use features like Facebook Places or sites like Foursquare.