We know how important it is for parents to be able to trust apps that they allow their children to download. You will no doubt have some questions about the Own It app, so we’ve put together some detailed FAQs to explain all about how it works and what it does.
What is the BBC Own It app?
The Own it app is part of the BBC’s commitment to supporting young people in today’s changing digital environment. It will provide a helping hand to your child when they receive their first smartphone, supporting their digital wellbeing, showing them how to make smarter and better-informed choices and helping them grow into confident, positive and happy digital citizens.
Using a combination of self-reporting and ‘machine learning’, the app builds up a picture of your child’s digital wellbeing and serves relevant content, information and interventions designed to help your child understand the impact that their online behaviours can have on themselves, and on others.
In addition, the app presents a range of content and features designed to help your child get the most of their time online, and help them to develop healthy online habits and behaviours, and encourages your child to have conversations with you when they are feeling sad or worried.
How does it work?
There are two parts to the app. The first is a custom keyboard which your child installs at the same time they install the app. When the child uses the keyboard, the information they type is analysed by the machine learning in real-time and the Own It app uses it to build up a picture of your child’s activity.
Based on this picture, the app will recommend content to the child that might be helpful, or it might intervene as the child is typing something to check that they are happy to share the information with others.
For example, if your child is typing some personal information such as a mobile number or email address, the app will intervene and tell the child to ‘think safe’ before sharing. Or if a child types something that might be an unkind message, the app will intervene and ask them if they really want to say that. Or if the child types something that indicates they might be sad or worried, the app will intervene and suggest some content that might help them to feel better.
The child is also encouraged to ‘self-report’ how they are feeling within the app itself by selecting an emoji that best reflects their mood. They can also choose to leave a note, just as they might in a diary. Again, the app will use this information to recommend content to the child that can help support their wellbeing.
The app will also be able to track some device usage information, such as how many times a child picks up their phone to check for messages/notifications, or if the phone is used at night-time. This information can be used to help the child understand how to develop healthy digital habits.
What happens to the information my child types using the keyboard?
Everything your child types into the keyboard is processed within the app on your child’s phone by the machine learning and then discarded – this happens instantaneously. None of this information is ever passed back to the BBC.
The BBC has no ability to see anything that your child has typed using the keyboard or to see any of your child’s self-reported information such as mood states, diary note entries or questionnaire results.
Is the data shared with anyone else?
It is important to note that analysis of activity and self-reported moods takes place within the app on the user's phone. In order to serve relevant content and messages back to the user, the app uses device ID and IP address. However once that’s been done, the device ID and IP address are not stored, we don’t use them for any other purposes, and we don’t allow any service providers to make use of it either.
We do however make use of data to help us see if the app is proving popular and if it’s working properly. This is called analytics data and it does not identify users personally. This means that we and our developers and service providers (i.e. the companies we work with to help deliver the app), use this type of data to see how people are using the app, but we don’t share any personal information.
Users can choose to switch off analytics reporting or delete the app at any time, using the settings portal, so it’s a good idea to take some time to familiarise yourself with these controls and encourage young users to do so as well. Data that is stored on the device (i.e. the emojis users have selected to self-report your emotions and any notes they have added) is deleted if the app is deleted from the device.
We will, however, retain analytics data to help us improve the app but as explained above, this information is anonymous and can’t be linked back to a specific user.
What happens if a user wants to delete the App?
If the user deletes the app from their device, all information stored inside it, such as the moods reported, diary notes, or information about how they have been using their phone will be permanently deleted along with the app.
As noted above, we do hold onto analytics data about app performance, this doesn’t identify the individual user.
Can the app report to me about my child’s activity?
No. The Own It app is designed to be a personal, private space where your child can learn more about their smartphone behaviour. It is not a parental monitoring app, of which there are several available on the market. If you choose to install a parental monitoring app, the Own It app will work alongside it without one causing the other not to work properly.
Can the app see what other people are saying to my child?
No. The app only learns from your child’s behaviour and cannot see what is being said to the child. While the app can’t see what the child receives, it can see how the child responds via the keyboard, whether that is the child sending a message in response, or perhaps using their browser to search for advice, and the app is, therefore, able to intervene with help and support accordingly.