Kidas is a new digital security tool that promotes safer and healthier interactions in online gaming. The company was incubated out of Penn, where it won multiple start-up challenges, including the inaugural MBA Fund competition and Lauder Jacobson award. Kidas is also a recent admit into TechStars Philadelphia. I had the chance to catch up with Ron Kerbs, a recent Wharton MBA graduate and the founder of Kidas.
THE INSPIRATION – Online Gaming’s Darker Side
Ron, like many of us, grew up playing video games. Back then, gaming was largely enjoyed on your own or with a few friends in your living room. However, as gaming technology improved, online gaming quickly gained popularity. Before long, players of all ages were regularly logging in to this new virtual world – a digital arena where friends and strangers meet to collaborate, compete, and enjoy gaming together. While this new social feature was largely seen as a positive, it also created new threats for the industry. Malicious users - predators, cyberbullies,, scammers - quickly infiltrated the world of online gaming, forcing companies to ramp up security measures and spend a ton of resources monitoring online user behavior.
Today, gaming behavior is managed by filtering out certain verbiage in text conversations and giving gamers the ability to report unsavory players. While this works most of the time, voice chat is still largely unmonitored, and analysis of text chats often fails to capture context that could be equally harmful. Consequently, the problem of toxicity in gaming persists.
Today, over 500,000 predators exist online, and many frequently target young gamers. Additionally, more than 60% of young gamers have reported being bullied while gaming online. With more children today gaming online than ever before (especially during the pandemic), the issue of gaming security is now top of mind for parents who typically have little visibility into their children’s online interactions.
As a gamer, Ron empathized with this problem and wanted to solve it. While Kidas was originally built to focus on cellphone interactions, Ron and his team saw a much larger opportunity in online gaming. The company made the pivot just 12 weeks ago and has already launched its new security product.
“When you’re playing a game online, sometimes those interactions can turn sour. While large gaming companies try and eliminate these instances, they still happen. That’s why Kidas exists – to help parents mitigate and, in the long run, eliminate these interactions.”
THE PRODUCT – Your Personal Gaming Security Advisor
The Kidas product takes deep surveillance technology and places it in a consumer-friendly device that is easy to install and manage. This device, a small dongle , is shipped to parents and connected to a gaming console. Once the dongle is connected, Kidas’ software gets to work mining all voice and text behavior that occurs on the console.
This monitoring software, based on work the team has done for the Israeli military, is Kidas’ competitive advantage and core IP. The software's machine learning and natural language processing capabilities power Kidas' core engine, using thousands of hand-crafted datasets from real world scenarios to inform its algorithms. Moreover, as the dongle stays connected and analyzes more conversations, Kidas’ machine learning gets better at detecting threats, continuing to generate value for its users.
Here’s how it works from the parent’s perspective. Once the dongle is connected, if something of concern is detected, parents are automatically notified via e-mail reports. These reports include a breakdown of the incident(s) and recommendations on what to do next. Kidas also randomly selects parents for feedback to ensure that it is capturing the right information.
Additionally, game companies receive this information to help improve their own security processes (after the user data is anonymized to comply with data privacy regulations).
Also, important to note – in the current beta the device is capable of not just text-based monitoring, but voice chat monitoring as well. The device can capture & analyze voice chats with up to 10 participants, which sets it apart from many other nascent security players.
THE FUTURE – Working Together to Make Gaming Safer
With such a compelling mission and large market opportunity, the Kidas team quickly secured funding to fuel its pivot, raising a significant pre-seed round from Contour Ventures and angel groups earlier this year. Kidas also recently joined the latest TechStars Philadelphia cohort, where the company has established a partnership with Comcast to help advance their technology and explore improved security measures for Comcast customers.
As Kidas’ waitlist grows, the team continues to connect with thousands of gamers and families in exploring the safety challenges of online gaming. One clear takeaway from those conversations – parents need more visibility into the types of interactions their children are having online. Children are vulnerable to predatorial behavior and often do not know how to effectively handle potentially dangerous situations. With a product like Kidas, families can work together to diminish these risks and make gaming safer for all players.
“It’s always difficult bringing up topics like cyberbullying at home. My son knows Kidas is installed and we use it as a conversation starter about bullying and how he can be safer online.”
You can sign up to learn more and join Kidas’ waitlist here.