IT LIFE: Richard Pursey, SafeToNet CEO

Richard Pursey details how SafeToNet uses AI to protect children online, his career to date and why routemapping technology took his breath away

What is your role and who do you work for? 

I’m Richard Pursey, the founder and CEO of SafeToNet. SafeToNet is an e-safety company that safeguards children from cyberbullying, abuse, aggression, sextortion and other predatory risks online.

It uses artificial intelligence to contextualise messages sent, shared and received by children online and then blocks anything harmful before it seen and before the damage is done. No other company does this. 

I want SafeToNet to become an everyday word in the English language, and for our software to become the global default standard in e-safety. 

How long have you been in IT? 

Richard Pursey SafeToNet CEOI’ve been in the IT and tech space for over 30 years. Before starting SafeToNet, I started and sold three technology companies and an insurance company: Logical Networks, Adam Associates and Adam Continuity, and Olivia Underwriting & Risk Management. 

 What is your most interesting project to date? 

I’m obviously a little biased here, but definitely SafeToNet. When I noticed this opportunity four and a half years ago, it was something I decided I need to immerse myself in. I was a private investor and was asked to invest in a social network, and through that did four months of detailed due diligence where I saw a lot of abuse and aggression. I wanted to do something about it. 

We are talking about such a serious issue and social challenge, and I didn’t want to leave it in the hands of others. I’ve invested in many companies previously, but quickly learned that I’m better at running businesses than I am at being an investor. Given I’ve had a lot of heavy involvement with start-ups in the past, taking the same route with SafeToNet wasn’t a huge leap – particularly when I’m a dad and the issue we’re solving is close to my heart. 

SafeToNet involves extreme programming, and the cerebral challenge of building a cognitive computing system using natural language programming, behavioural and sentiment analytics, machine learning and deep tech is really interesting. We have taken a multi-faceted approach to the technical challenge of contextual blocking, which has stretched the best brains in our industry. 

 What is your biggest challenge at the moment? 

With the nature of the software we’re creating we’re facing challenges constantly and especially the legal minefield around data privacy, defamation and computer misuse.

My lowest point, for example, was when our lawyers let us know that our initial version of SafeToNet could break a few laws to do with data analysis on social networks. That initially put a big question mark over the viability of this whole project.

What is your biggest cybersecurity concern?

  • Ransomware (28%)
  • Humans / Social Engineering (27%)
  • State sponsored hackers (14%)
  • Malware (14%)
  • Other (7%)
  • Out of date tools (6%)
  • DDoS (4%)

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However, with a lot of hard work and persistence, and by building an agile software development environment for development we’ve managed to navigate these legal issues in a way that is unique in our industry, which we’re really proud of.  

 What technology were you working with ten years ago? 

I was already in the behavioural analytics market but for corporate environments. We had written some software that allowed us to measure corporate risk, especially in the business continuity and high availability markets.

I had founded a company called Neverfail and we were one of the first in the world to produce automated uptime solutions for corporate email servers. It seems so archaic now but it was bleeding edge at the time. 

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