According to the company, its word recognition system using artificial intelligence detects signs in students’ messages that hint at drug use or cyberbullying. However, this arrangement operates at the cost of the users’ privacy and compromises their safety online. As a strategy, Bark keeps an eye out for problematic language — specifically, their usage of emojis and the “latest in teen slang.” The corporation claims to operate on “advanced machine learning and statistical analysis techniques” that are allegedly based on an updated version of the vocabulary, acronyms, and code words that teenagers use.
With this algorithm in effect, users can be easily accused of misbehaving if their word usage conflicts with how Bark determines innocent from guilty. The official Bark website attempts to emphasize the flexibility of their technology, mentioning that their system even picks up on the diverse meanings of different emojis.
According to the analytical author at Bark Technologies, Haley Zapel, the “Drug Slang Emoji Glossary” is part of the algorithm that is utilized to detect suspicious behavior. While parents may be deceived by this, children and teenagers are fully aware that the system uses an inaccurate method to portray how they communicate online. Students monitored under this structure could be mistaken for using drugs when they want to message their friend that it’s snowing outside or if they’re a fan of BTS and use a purple heart, which would be flagged by Bark Technologies. Overall, Bark’s strategies and tactics involving word recognition are one of the most concerning flaws within their tracking services.
Moreover, Bark has also been a target for various privacy complaints, even from U.S. Senators. In September 2021, Elizabeth Warren, Edward J. Markey, and Richard Blumenthal wrote Bark Technologies an official letter to bring attention to the fact that its technology is “surveilling students inappropriately, compounding racial disparities in school discipline, and draining resources from more effective student supports.”
According to the Senators’ letter, activating the Bark extension on a student’s device automatically allows the company to scan for any activity conducted on the browser since it is “native” to the device. Adding onto the quality of their system and algorithm, utilizing these tools might even prevent struggling students from accessing the information they need online.
For example, LGBTQ+ children are known to seek help anonymously on the web, but the internet filtering feature that gives administrators control over domains and blocks websites could possibly be helpful resources. Without proper assistance in learning environments, minority students are unable to take care of themselves as the school day drags on, making this issue a serious matter that should be addressed as soon as possible.
Overall, the Senators’ main concern is with how corporations like Bark handle student data and abide by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a public law that limits the collection and use of personal information about children by the operators of online resources. Due to Bark’s presumed lack of regard for users’ privacy, the technology of the corporation has raised many red flags that may have led officials to adopt their suspicions.