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School internet filter maker launches suicide risk detector

The company worked with suicide prevention experts and will alert school staff in real time.
Cherlynn Low, @cherlynnlow
August 26, 2018
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GoGuardian

A company that makes internet filters and Chromebook management software for schools is launching a product today that detects when K12 students are at risk of suicide or self harm. GoGuardian serves about 4,000 school districts in the US, totaling about 5.3 million students, and is meant to act as "an early-warning system to help schools proactively identify at-risk students to quickly get them the assistance they need."

The product, called Beacon, is a system that's built into school-provided computers and uses AI to understand students' browsing behavior. When it detects something is amiss, Beacon will alert a school counselor or psychologist, informing them that a user has been flagged. When the counselor opens the alert in Beacon's administrator dashboard, they'll see the student's identity and behavior that triggered the alert.

Gallery: GoGuardian Beacon screenshots | 3 Photos

The system will classify the behavior as one of five categories -- General suicide research, general suicide ideation, help and support, self harm and active planning. A search for "how to tie a noose," for example, will be flagged as "active planning" while someone looking up the statistics of people who commit suicide each year will fall under "general suicide research."

Depending on how each school configures Beacon, the counselor will also see information like how to contact local authorities and the child's parents. They can also add their own assessment of the student's risk level and note if they had followed up.

GoGuardian CEO Advait Shinde told Engadget that Beacon has been in testing for almost a year, and in that time the system has flagged about 2,000 cases per week. On occasion, school staff who were alerted by Beacon were able to get parents to intervene in the nick of time.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), some 45,000 Americans die from suicide each year. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

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