| January 30, 2019

Planned Parenthood Targets Teens With New Chatbot

Nqaba Matshazi

Nqaba has been working as an investigative journalist for the last 10 years. He has written for various media outlets across the world. Nqaba has been working as an investigative journalist for the last 10 years. He has written for various media outlets across the world.

Health-services group, Planned Parenthood has launched a new chatbot designed to answer young people’s burning questions about their health, bodies and sexual relationships.

The chatbot, known as Roo, is designed for 13 to 17 year olds, but Planned Parenthood says anyone with questions on sexual and reproductive health can use it.

Chatbots allow users to express themselves more freely

Planned Parenthood said chatbot technology was in use for customer service and streamlining transactions and the organization had sought a way to use that technology “to get young people personalized answers to their questions on topics that are often stigmatized.”

“Planned Parenthood knows that young people need developmentally appropriate and accurate information about relationships, their bodies, and sex, without feeling shamed or judged for their curiosity — and research has shown that chatbot technology can lower users’ fears and increase their willingness to disclose personal information,” the organization said in a statement.

Leana Wen, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the chatbot was a means to reach out to more young people to deliver personalized, immediate, and accurate information. “No matter where you are, Planned Parenthood is here to provide you with evidence-based, judgement-free information.”

Wen said young people processed information in an evolving way and there was a need for Planned Parenthood to come up with an innovative way to reach them. “We wanted to make sure that Roo, for example, is available on mobile because we know that’s how most young people are searching for information,” she explained.

With the Roo, users can quickly learn about several topics such as as birth control, masturbation, or sexual orientation, and gender. Planned Parenthood said that as more users signed up for the platform, the chatbot will continue to evolve and be able to answer more questions on more topics.

Ambreen Molitor, the senior director of digital products lab at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, explained that if a question is too complex for the bot, it will let the user know that it does not understand. “This is a new product — and part of trying out a new tool is that we won’t have all the answers until enough people try it out. The more people use Roo, the better it will be. That’s part of what we’re exploring: how well and how consistently a chatbot is able to answer health questions,” she explained.

The objective of coming up with the app is to ensure that young people feel comfortable asking personal sex education questions.

Molitor said: “This is independent of the fact of whether you have sex-ed at your high school, whether you have a friendly relationship with your parents and family members or not. [Roo] just allows you to have a safe space and an outlet for you to ask all of the questions and get accurate information to those questions, as well.”

How Roo was developed

In developing the app, Planned Parenthood collaborated with Work & Co., a design technology company. On its part, Work & Co. turned to teens at MESA (Math Engineering Science Academy) High School in Bushwick to help develop and test Roo, and provide feedback on what they’re looking for when it comes to sexual health information online, Planned Parenthood said in a statement.

It took Planned Parenthood and Work & Co. 14 months to plan and develop the chatbot.

Work & Co. co-founder, Gene Liebel said: “Brands and nonprofits have only scratched the surface of what AI can do. Helping teens access trusted information — especially since so many young people aren’t getting the sexual health education they need — makes this a rare sort of digital product.”

Mashable reported that Roo is inclusive of different gender identities. When users start using the chatbot they are prompted to select female, male, trans man, trans woman, non-binary, or even to name their own gender.The bot also analyzes the words and questions and sometimes prompts users to talk to an expert or someone more experienced.

Roo is the latest addition to Planned Parenthood’s digital ecosystem which includes a chat/text program that enables young people to correspond with trained educators via online chat or text message and a free birth control and period tracker app called Spot On.

A concern, though, is on the privacy and the storage of the information that users would share with the chatbot. Planned Parenthood insists this data will never be shared or sold.

Also, while Planned Parenthood is raving about its new chatbot, a recent study says users do not fully trust the technology yet. The study, “Healthcare chatbot diagnosis: will consumers trust them with their health?” points out that chatbot apps still have to earn consumer trust and basic usability issues still need to be addressed.

 

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