Microsoft backs SuperAwesome amid growing demand for child safety tech
As the public becomes increasingly aware of the ways the internet is endangering their children’s health, companies are stepping in to tackle the various threats. SuperAwesome, which has developed an extensive platform to help brands deliver “safe” content to children is a prime example. The London-based startup claims some big-name clients, including Mattel, Lego, NBC Universal, and Hasbro, with touchpoints reaching 500 million children globally.
SuperAwesome previously raised around $41 million, including a $13 million tranche last February, and today it confirmed rumors that it has nabbed Microsoft as a backer via the latter’s M12 venture fund. Neither company confirmed how much M12 invested, but this is the fund’s first local investment after opening its inaugural European office in the heart of London. M12 has additional offices in Seattle, San Francisco, Tel Aviv, and Bengaluru.
As kids are growing up with digital devices — rather than TV — as their primary form of entertainment, child-focused content companies and advertisers have struggled to reach their audience. This is made more challenging by the various rules and regulations that 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. Companies are therefore not just morally obligated to maintain children’s privacy, but legally obligated, as well.
Each of the major tech companies has faced the heat in recent years over insufficient protections for children on their respective platforms. When YouTube launched a kid-focused app five years ago, it received immediate condemnation for its use of advertisements and the inclusion of some very grown-up videos. Facebook has also struggled 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.
SuperAwesome is looking to carve out a niche by developing the infrastructure to enable what it calls a “zero-data internet.” For children and their parents, SuperAwesome’s technology helps ensure kids are not tracked online, while business clients can rely on it to help them remain compliant with local 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 kid tech 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 enables companies to serve contextual ads not based on personal data; Kidfluencer, which is essentially a kid-safe influencer marketing and content creation tool for YouTube; Kids Web Services, a toolkit that developers can use to build verifiable parental consent (VPC) features into their apps; and PopJam, a social network for children that the company acquired from Mind Candy back in 2015.
It’s also worth noting that the SuperAwesome logo has become a sort of “seal of approval” brands plaster on their digital products to show they’ve been designed with children in mind.
Other companies promising to protect children online include Swiss startup Privately, which develops the back end for app makers looking to integrate various digital well-being features into their own software, and London-based SafeToNet, which has built a safeguard assistant to reduce bullying, abuse, and sexting. Israel’s L1ght is operating in a similar sphere.
M12’s financial stake in SuperAwesome makes a great deal of sense for Microsoft from a strategic perspective, given that Microsoft itself has to comply with various parental consent regulations in markets around the world and 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,” said M12 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.”