As awareness grows around the dangers the internet poses to children, more companies have entered the fray with solutions to combat the various threats. One of those companies is SuperAwesome, which has developed an extensive platform to help brands deliver “safe” content to children. The London-based startup claims some big-name clients, including Mattel, LEGO, NBC Universal, and Hasbro, with touchpoints reaching 500 million children globally.
SuperAwesome has previously raised around $41 million, including a $13 million tranche last February, and today it confirmed rumors that surfaced last month that it has nabbed Microsoft as a backer via its M12 venture fund. Neither company confirmed how much M12 invested, but it is the fund’s first local investment after M12 opened its inaugural European office in the heart of London. M12 has additional offices in Seattle, San Francisco, Tel Aviv, and Bengaluru.
As kids have increasingly grown up with digital devices — rather than TV — as their primary form of entertainment it has become more challenging for child-focused content companies and advertisers to reach their audience. Various rules and regulations have also come into place through the years to prevent websites and mobile apps from collecting “personal information” from children, such as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in the U.S. and GDPR in Europe. Thus, companies are not just morally obliged to maintain children’s privacy, but they are legally obliged, too.
All the major tech companies have faced the heat in recent years over insufficient protections for children on their respective platforms. When YouTube launched a kids-focused app five years ago, it faced immediate condemnation over its use of advertisements and its inclusion of some very grown-up videos. Facebook has also battled to clean up its various apps, and has increasingly turned to AI to help make Instagram a more pleasant place for everyone (not just kids). Elsewhere, Amazon offers parents FreeTime, which lets them control the amount of time their children spend on their Fire tablets — a separate subscription-based Amazon FreeTime Unlimited service also unlocks a slate of whitelisted kid-friendly content, including apps, books, games, websites, and videos.
It’s clear that there is a growing appetite to build better protections into digital services, and it’s against that backdrop that SuperAwesome is looking to carve its niche by developing the infrastructure to enable what it calls a “zero-data Internet.” From the child’s perspective, SuperAwesome’s technology ensures that they are not tracked online, while from its business clients’ perspective it helps them remain compliant with laws.
“In 2013 we started as a handful of people in a room, mostly being turned down by investors,” SuperAwesome cofounder and CEO Dylan Collins said. “Today our kidtech platform enables over 12 billion kid-safe transactions every month, ranging from advertising and video to community and parental consent.”
From ads to consent
SuperAwesome’s product lineup include AwesomeAds, which enable companies to serve contextual ads not based on personal data; Kidfluencer, which is essentially kid-safe influencer marketing and content creation for YouTube; Kids Web Services, which is a toolkit that developers can use to build verifiable parental consent (VPC) features into their apps; and PopJam, a social network for children it acquired from Mind Candy back in 2015.
It’s also worth noting here that the SuperAwesome logo has also emerged as a sort of “seal of approval” that brands plaster on their digital products to show that they have been designed with children in mind.
Other companies that promise to help protect children online including Swiss startup Privately, which develops the back end for app makers to integrate various digital wellbeing features into their own software, while London-based SafeToNet has built a safeguarding assistant designed to prevent bullying, abuse, and sexting. Israel’s L1ght is also operating in a similar sphere.
M12’s financial stake in SuperAwesome makes a great deal of sense for Microsoft from a strategic perspective too, given that Microsoft itself has to comply with various parental consent regulations in markets around the world, while it also offers digital identity management software to its own clients.
“Dylan has cultivated a mission-driven team dedicated to keeping the internet safer for kids – a critical priority for digital-first generations, with more than 175,000 kids coming online every day,” noted M12’s global head Nagraj Kashyap, in a blog post. “Given Microsoft’s footprint in the identity management space, we’re also excited to explore opportunities for partnership with SuperAwesome.”