- Thorough social media monitoring
- Impressive AI
- Great customer service
- Well priced
- Long installation process
- No content filters
- False positive results
Don’t be fooled by the name, Bark is not an app to monitor how dogs surf the internet – although there is a gap in the market there. What Bark.us does is act as a watchdog for your children while they use social media, protecting them from all the dangers that kids face in the 21st century. Founded in 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia, Bark has had a large amount of media coverage in the U.S., but does it deserve the hype? It has the stats on its side; Bark claims to have detected a hundred sexual predators and 51 potential acts of violence in American schools in 2018 alone. This is because Bark has some of the most comprehensive social media monitoring that we’ve come across, in fact, there are far too many networks covered for us to list here. All of these accounts are analyzed by artificial intelligence machine learning to give parents warning signs of cyber bullying, depression, drug use, and a host of other issues that are a huge concern for parents today. Bark even offers a seven-day free trial to try all of its features.
Bark works unlike any of its rivals on the market – instead of monitoring every single activity your child does online, it focuses just on their social media interactions and then raises red flags for any concerns it detects. This does mean that Bark’s installation process isn’t the simplest. For example, when building your child’s profile, you’ll first need to choose which devices to cover, then you’ll go through the vast number of email providers, social media networks, and just about everything else your child may have an account with. Once that’s done, you’ll need to sign in to your child’s account for each of these services to allow Bark to read the data. This is fine if your child only has a few accounts otherwise it can take up a large amount of time to set up, but it’s good that Bark doesn’t limit the amount of accounts you can monitor.
After installation, Bark will immediately get to work on surveiling your children’s accounts and browser activity, and since the app has full access to accounts, it’s able to check retroactively so you’ll even be alerted through text or email about a concerning issue that might have even happened weeks before you read this review. Bark goes far beyond just social media – it also covers email servers, file hosting services, and reads Spotify’s song lyrics. It’s not restrictive to text either; the AI analyzes audio files, images, and even text from images.
Since Bark focuses more on social media activity it doesn’t have a content filter to prevent access to adult websites, but the browser extension flags up any inappropriate browsing history to parents. Although there is a version of this included in Bark’s package that they offer to schools, so it could easily be implemented it in the future, but Bark could also be used alongside a parental control DNS.
When a topic is flagged up by Bark it also offers you expert advice on how to discuss these issues with your child as well as any future steps you can take with them. One critique we do have is that Bark is slow to update information, so you won’t be able to view your child’s online activity in real-time.
Bark’s main selling point is its ability to monitor a vast array of social media accounts, so naturally this is where the service really comes into its own. Bark covers all the major social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, but that’s just scratching the surface. Reddit, Discord, Kik, and WhatsApp are also covered in the comprehensive list that is too long to repeat; fortunately Bark has the full list in its user guides.
What parents will have to do is log on to their child’s social media account first so Bark can start monitoring. Of course, there’s nothing to prevent children from simply starting a new account with a new email address that Bark won’t recognize. However, to prevent this, Bark also notifies parents if there’s significantly less activity on a social media account.
Bark is available for iOS, Android, Chromebook, and Amazon Fire tablets but unfortunately not macOS or Windows. However, there is a Google Chrome extension for desktops that monitors a child’s browsing history as well as their web searches, even when Chrome is in incognito mode.
Apple has strict rules for the developers of parental controls that make many iOS apps incredibly simplistic. Bark has a clever solution to this problem by enabling iOS monitoring without an app. Users will instead require plugging the device into a desktop first so Bark can then analyze the device’s backups as well as social media accounts.
Some features are only available on Android, for example the check-in feature that allows parents to ask children to check-in on the Bark app which will send back their GPS location, even offering directions with Google Maps. Both Android and iOS are able to read text messages and even can even read deleted text messages.
There are two pricing options for Bark – customers can choose either a $9 monthly subscription or instead pay $99 for a whole year. The yearly subscription is the cheapest option and comes out to paying just $8.25 a month, saving you a total of 10% compared to a monthly plan. All Bark accounts cover an unlimited number of profiles over an unlimited number of devices.
Bark also offers a free seven-day trial though users will need to add their credit card details for legal reasons. It should be noted that Bark doesn’t offer any refunds, so it’s best to make the most of the trial before subscribing.
Bark features some excellent customer service, which will be able to guide users through the time-consuming installation process. Support is available through live chat, although it isn’t available 24/7, or alternatively, Bark has online forms for users to email questions directly.
The Bark website is full of useful guides and has an extensive FAQ section that tells you everything you need to know about the app and its features. Bark also has a large active group on Facebook, so you’ll be able to get support as well as talk with other parents in similar situations. We’d also recommend that parents read the Bark blog, which gives news about updates to Bark, as well as informative articles about parenting life in the digital age.
If you want total coverage of how your child interacts online then Bark is a must have. Its social media coverage is second-to-none and the AI does an incredible job of finding any issues over text, images, videos, and even audio. Perhaps that is also to its detriment too, because it can often offer a lot of false positives and since Bark doesn’t monitor everything, parents are often seeing questionable content without context. However, AI is constantly evolving so this does improve regularly.
All in all, Bark is a fantastic online safety tool that will protect children from the vast amount of dangers online, so we think that yes, Bark really does deserve the hype.
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