Parents who, at home, want to keep their children away from Web sites they consider detrimental or even dangerous for them usually have to set up Internet control directly on the computers their children use and keep an eye on them while they access Web sites.
Not only can it be difficult for parents to be home each time their children get on the Internet, but children—and especially teenagers—may resent having their parents watch over their shoulders when they access Web sites, said David Ker.
Those issues led him to launch the company RealWat Inc in late 2006 and to set up its business and product research office in Canada and its software development center in Cambodia with the goal of developing a distance parental control tool.
RealWat’s product will be released on the Internet in a beta version next month, and officially launch in June once the final stages of testing have been completed, said Ker—a Cambodian French-Canadian who had worked in software design for international firms since graduating from Montreal’s Polytechnical School in 1996.
“We have tried to come out of this [over-the-shoulder control] context so that the [Internet] is a pleasant universe for the children and, at the same time, parents can check on them even without their knowledge since they can do it from a distance,” he said.
RealWat’s product, Ti-took, will be accessible at www.titook.com, “ti” being a French-Canadian shortcut word for “little” and “took” referring to tuk-tuk.
Ti-took will be a Web site offering children and teenagers features ranging from games and sports to school and family, as well as an underlying platform with which parents can control access to site categories and content such as sexuality, drugs, violence and even online shopping.
Parents will not only be able to control Internet access at a distance, but they also will have the capability of monitoring what their children are viewing at Web sites, Ker said.
RealWat’s business and marketing office is in Montreal and all software development is being done in Phnom Penh by a team of young Cambodians that Ker recruited last year.
Why do software research in Cambodia? Ker, who was 5 years old when his family arrived in Montreal as refugees in 1980, said he had always dreamt of doing something for the country. Giving Cambodians the chance to develop software so innovative that RealWat is applying for patents for several components of the platform seemed to him a good idea both in the short and long terms.
Besides, Ker felt at home in Cambodia since he has relatives here and speaks Khmer thanks to his grandmother who has lived with his family since they moved to Canada, he said.
And from a practical standpoint, setting up the software development office in Cambodia was more affordable than doing it in Canada as RealWat does not expect to make any profit for a minimum of three years, he added.
Ker took eight months to build his Cambodia team, first touring universities to look at the training offered in the country and giving free programming and software-engineering courses both as a contribution but also to identify promising candidates, he said.
In the end, Ker hired five Cambodian men and one woman, 19 to 24 years old, and put them in charge of specific component development with on-the-job training whenever needed.
“Before I joined [RealWat], I did not expect to work in software engineering process,” said Lonh Samdy, 23, who is responsible for search engines.
“It is most difficult to program and integrate in one site the different subjects and languages of applications,” said Lorn Se, 24, who concentrates on the database system where parents’ access rules and children’s preferences will be kept on the platform.
“Many technical approaches, very new to Cambodia, are applied to this Web site…[to ensure] reliable management of information systems,” said 24-year-old Phann Malinka who is working on firewalls to protect parents and children’s computers from intrusion.
All this research is meant to produce a “dynamic Web site” where parents and children can easily post family photos and change font, colors and skin through one-click-type steps, said Hok Malin, 19, who is designing the skins and look of the site.
Ker said he was fortunate enough to get advice from various research entities in Canada, including the National Research Council.
The next challenge for Ti-took is to come up with maximum protection from sexual predators who target children and teenagers, he said. “One of their ways is chat rooms. Those individuals chat with our children, pretend to be someone else and try to attract children, taking advantage Continued on page 18
of their naivety.”
One of the solutions RealWork is looking into is to create a chat room with parental control, which will allow parents to view the conversations their children are having, to create a list of chat room correspondents. There may even be a built-in alert system.
RealWat is also researching how to extend parental control to existing chat rooms on the Internet, which presents a major challenge since information on the individuals visiting those sites would be very hard to get, Ker said. “So we are continuing research and development,” he added.
Ti-took will have a free version available on the Internet; annual subscriptions of around $50 will be available for parents wanting to customize control and have access to additional features, Ker said.