BBC updates Own It kids app to help children cope with the COVID-19 lockdown

The BBC has updated its children’s wellbeing app, Own It, with a number of features to support kids under Covid 19 restrictions. The changes are outline in a blog post written by Jon Howard, the executive product manager in charge of the app.

Own It features a smart keyboard and a companion app. The keyboard features AI technology that can assess and intervene so that the right help can be provided at the right time. Once the app is installed, the keyboard becomes the default for every text input field in all apps and web pages.

The Own It companion app provides insights and feedback to the user on how they are using their smartphone. Entertaining and informative content is presented that allows children to grow their resilient behaviours and to develop a better understanding of how their actions can directly affect wellbeing.

The Own It keyboard uses an underlying dictionary to support its autocorrect, autocomplete and next-word-prediction functions. This dictionary is based on how children speak and the language that they use on popular platforms. To ensure that children are able to express themselves about the current crisis, the BBC has added words including coronavirus, covid, and pandemic to the dictionary.

When a child is typing a message, the Own It text analysis module givew live feedback on the sentiment of the message and also provides an intervention when the system determines hate, toxicity or a number of safeguarding issues. The intervention can be passive or a full-screen message, providing a nudge or friction to give the user a chance to consider their actions or whether they need help.

A new addition to this system is the classification of messages related to coronavirus and isolation. The method looks for the occurrence of words or phrases concerning the issue and then measures if the emotion sentiment is anger, fear or worry. If a user were to type “I’m so lonely with this isolating”, a passive intervention would be presented supporting the child in understanding that it is okay to be worried and they’re not alone. The user is then offered a link to helpful content within the companion app. If the child was to type “I like isolation, I get to read more books”, no intervention would be presented.

Within the Own It companion app, there’s a ‘For You’ section that contains content which the system has determined to be important for that user. A new feature added here is Collections. These are swipe-able carousels that contain curated content concentrated on a topic. The first two collections launched with this release are ‘The Lowdown Lockdown’ and ‘Feeling Anxious or Scared?’

The Lockdown Lowdown offers entertaining and informative content that inspires children to live their best digital online life while in isolation, with contributions from pop stars, YouTubers and vloggers. Feeling Anxious or Scared? is a collection of videos and articles that provide support for children during a time that they are away from their day-to-day support network of friends. Articles cover how to tackle fears and worries, de-stressing, and support in understanding that it is normal to have ups and downs.

All of the new features uphold the strict data privacy requirements that have been applied to the Own It app. All of the machine learning and AI is run on the user’s device. No personal data is transferred to the BBC and no messages are logged. All data that is generated within the system is stored and handled locally on the phone.