Archive for Sunday, January 16, 2011

Lawrence software company Saavi Accountability helps monitor online addictions

Saavi Accountability founder Justen Wack briefly explains the concept behind his company's software program that aims to help people with online addictions.

January 16, 2011


As far as addictions go, this one is convenient.

There’s no need to go to a dark street corner and make a transaction with a dealer. No need for needles or pipes. No need to hop in a car to head to your local bar or liquor store.

No, as 26-year-old Justen Wack will tell you, all that’s needed to become an outstanding Internet porn addict is a computer and a little bit of time.

Oh sure, there’s some occasional pangs of guilt or shame, but nothing that can’t be overcome.

“When you’re sitting at home alone on a Friday night,” Wack said, “those consequences don’t seem that strong.”

A little more than eight years ago, Wack came from Cleveland to enroll at Olathe-based MidAmerica Nazarene University and to play on the school’s soccer team.

Somewhere along the way, he became a college male who spent a lot of time looking at online pornography. Wack won’t try to tell you some strung-out junkie story about his addiction. He didn’t end up living in a gutter, and he didn’t end up flunking out of school. But he did have an addiction, and he said it became obvious to him.

“I realized I had a problem when I wanted to stop doing it, but every time I tried to I couldn’t,” Wack said.

So Wack sought help. That’s predictable enough. But where this story has a twist is that Wack didn’t so much find help as much as he built it.

Now, he’s kicked the porn — and gained a business in the process.


The slogan for online pornography very well could be “affordable and anonymous.”

By the time Wack reached his senior year, he had figured out that if he somehow could remove the anonymity from the equation he might be a step closer to shedding his problem.

What he came up with was a computer program. The concept behind it was easy. He would develop a software system that would recognize pornography sites. But instead of the program blocking his access to the sites, it would do something different. It would let him look all he wanted, but it also would send out an e-mail or text message to a friend, parent or someone else close to him. Within 20 seconds of logging onto the site, his “accountability partner” would know about it.

“I wanted to have a friend be able to call me up in the heat of the moment and say ‘What the heck are you doing?’” Wack said.

The system worked for Wack. He said knowing that he could get that uncomfortable call has helped him change his behavior.

Then Wack began wondering whether the program could help other people. After graduating with a degree in graphic design, he was working in a Gardner sign shop when a member of The Bristol Groupe — a Lawrence-based development company — overheard him talking about the idea.

A short time later, The Bristol Groupe had become an investor in Wack’s infant company. Now, Lawrence resident Greg DiVilbiss, a partner in The Bristol Groupe, has become the company’s chief operating officer.

Since August, the company, which has an office in both Gardner and in Lawrence near Bob Billings and Wakarusa Drive, has been selling the software under the brand name Saavi Accountability.

The Internet-based program sells on the company’s website,, for $9 a month, which allows the software to run on up to four computers. In late December, the company released its second version of the software, and sales are growing, both Wack and DiVilbiss said.

“We feel like we’re on the cutting edge of Internet technology,” DiVilbiss said.


Since its inception, the software has evolved. No longer is it just for online pornography problems. The company, which includes Wack, DiVilbiss and a software developer, has added online gambling, hate sites, sites that promote violence, YouTube videos and online gaming applications to the list of activities that can be detected and that would trigger a message to an accountability partner.

But the program is set up to let users decide what types of categories, or even specific sites, they find appropriate or inappropriate.

“We’re not in the business of being the morals police,” said Wack, who serves as the company’s founder and CEO.

The software seems to have two main user groups, Wack said. One is people like Wack who are looking for a tool to help them with their own problems. The second group is parents who want a unique way of teaching their children online responsibility.

The company thinks the parent market will be a growing one, especially as online gaming becomes a significant addiction problem, Wack said. The program allows parents to decide how long a child should be playing a particular game.

“If they think an hour a day is appropriate,” Wack said, “they can set it for that. But once they play for an hour and one minute, the parents are going to get a message.”

DiVilbiss also thinks other markets are emerging. He’s hoping to convince justice systems that the program would be a good tool for parole officers who monitor registered sex offenders. He also believes the program might be good for corporations that have grown weary of the traditional blocking and filtering programs.

“I used to work at a company in Wichita that had a filtering program, and it would block a lot of appropriate sites,” DiVilbiss said. “It might block the Journal-World site one day because it had a story about Fred Phelps on it.”

But Wack thinks the bulk of the company’s growth will come from users who appreciate the unique philosophy behind the software. Wack said he’s convinced the best way to overcome an online addiction is not to be stopped from seeing a site, but rather to convince yourself that you no longer want to see it.

“I realized, in my case, I had to address the problem from the inside out,” Wack said. “The heart of the problem was the heart. Our program helps you build the decision-making process. That’s important because one thing that is for sure these days is that you’re going to be exposed to the Internet.”


nut_case 7 years, 4 months ago

This borders on being one of the dumbest things I have heard yet. But I guess that is what I thought about twitter, too. Though with a few slight mods, it might actually be useful:

“I wanted to have a [girl] friend be able to call me up in the heat of the moment and say ‘[Hey baby, how] are you doing, [mind if I come over for some fun]?'

pizzapete 7 years, 4 months ago

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Paul Hahn 7 years, 4 months ago

Software like this is vitally important for those who are in bondage to sexually compulsive behaviors. I've used software like this and many of my clients have used tools like this. If you've never been enslaved to unwanted behaviors, then you can't appreciate how far you'd go to be free of something that you has such power over you.

I've never used Saavi, but I know men who have tried it and it seems to be pretty robust.

insearchofauniqueid 7 years, 4 months ago

LMAO pizzapete. I thought the same thing when I read that statement.

WHY 7 years, 4 months ago

It should be a crime not to look at porn. We are the first humans in history to have the power to see beautiful women and men of all types from across the globe engage in the most basic human instinct after self preservation. If you are not watching you are missing out on a great life experience. If you have a favorite maybe today you should branch out and seek other genres. There is no end to the excitement.

deec 7 years, 4 months ago

So you view porn as sort of like those National Geographic specials?

WHY 7 years, 4 months ago

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Boston_Corbett 7 years, 4 months ago

So whom will the software call for Merrill's LJW forum posting addiction?

WHY 7 years, 4 months ago

That would result in just on extra post for some poor soul for every post he makes.

deec 7 years, 4 months ago

I thought there was a guy doing that already.

WHY 7 years, 4 months ago

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insearchofauniqueid 7 years, 4 months ago

I think it is an excellent way of micromanaging your teens. Your phone can GPS them and let you know what they are up to online. Sounds like a win win to me.

gl0ck0wn3r 7 years, 4 months ago

Best unintentionally hilarious last name in a story ever.

Budmeyer 7 years, 4 months ago

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lawrencenerd 7 years, 4 months ago

Sounds like a silly idea to me. Also it wouldn't work for anybody that takes care of their own computer. You could simply disable the program whenever you are doing something it'd flag you for.

Paul Hahn 7 years, 4 months ago

Programs like this send a notification to the accountability partner if it's disabled or uninstalled. The software runs in the "root" (I think that's what it's called), so it's not easy to work around. Not even for the tech savvy.

Greg DiVilbiss 7 years, 4 months ago

You are correct once someone chooses what standards to have online and they set up the software, if a change is made or someone tries to disable it, a notification is sent out.

“We’re not in the business of being the morals police,” said Wack, who serves as the company’s founder and CEO.

The company makes no judgement to whether you should look at porn, gamble away all of your savings or spend all of your time on facebook. But for people who recognize their online behavior is getting in the way or is a problem to them, we have created a tool that is endorsed by therapists that assists the therapeutic model. This is not something that is done to you, it is software that you choose to use, To help yourself or your family.

Find out more information at

lawrencenerd 7 years, 4 months ago

Still sounds like an easy work around to me. You just have to disconnect from the internet before disabling the program. Most people wouldn't want to go digging around in the registry, but there are plenty who aren't intimidated by it. If you want to do whatever without somebody knowing about it, you will find a way to disable the program or you'll simply use a device that doesn't have the program on it.

If it is something that isn't done to you, but something you choose to use, why bother with the program anyway? Like I said, if you have admin access and know how to work a computer, you can disable it without anybody knowing. If you don't have admin access, it is something that is being done to you because you don't have a choice whether it is on there or not. Even then, I can download porn directly to my cell phone if I want to. Sounds to me like it is a placebo more than anything. If you wanna quit looking at porn, you can quit without this program if it truly is your choice. If you are being forced by a program to change your web browsing habits because you can't disable it, you'll simply use another device.

Paul Hahn 7 years, 4 months ago

It is my experience that when someone is motivated enough, they will, given enough time, find a work-around for a program like this if they wish to. But, in those cases, you have to ask: is this person on board with idea of accountability software in the first place. Your typical user isn't being forced to use the software under duress; but is using the software because they admit that they have compulsive behaviors. If I have a teenage son who doesn't share my values about porn, he may discover and exploit a work-around, but most adults are not going to "ask" for the software AND constantly seek to circumvent it at the same time.

Your comments about being able to quit "if it is truly your choice" isn't true when a person is ADDICTED. You need some form of assistance if you are going to beat an addiction.

lawrencenerd 7 years, 4 months ago

Assistance to beat an addiction in the form of paying 9 bucks a month to a program that won't really stop you from looking at porn? Seriously, you can just get porn on your phone, or at a video rental store, or have a buddy burn some to a usb drive, and the list of ways to look at porn without setting off the accountability program just goes on. Not everybody needs assistance quitting an addiction either, I know plenty of people that had the willpower to quit things that are actually physically addictive without treatment. If somebody is truly addicted to porn, this won't stop them, it'll just change the way they look at porn. The only demographic this would be helpful with is the group of people who can't figure out how to text on a cell phone and aren't resourceful enough to go find rentals. If you really wanted to be accountable for your actions, you could just pick up your phone and call somebody and say oh, by the way I'm looking at porn again. Works for a lot of people in substance abuse programs, doesn't cost 9 bucks a month, and encourages trust and self accountability instead of the amount of distrust and helplessness a cyber nanny instills.

It's cool though, I know you're going to keep trying to peddle your product so people can snoop on each other. Remember folks, you can totally use this to spy on your boyfriend so you can get angry about him watching porn. Just don't tell him you've put it on the computer. If they know it is on the computer they'll just find other ways to watch porn.

Nathan Atchison 7 years, 4 months ago

Let me get this straight. Mr. Wack lets someone know whenever he's handling his business and looking at some naughty website? Should of saved this one for April first.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years, 4 months ago

“It might block the Journal-World site one day because it had a story about Fred Phelps on it.”

Well of course! Have you seen the sign that they flagrantly display that is to obscene to describe?

MSD 7 years, 4 months ago

Editor: headline makes no sense. Liability for what? Do you mean boosts "accountability?"

wmathews 7 years, 4 months ago

Good point. I went ahead and changed it to be more clear.

Whitney Mathews Assistant Community Editor for Online

WHY 7 years, 4 months ago

I guess an honest discussion of porn is off the table LJW. Some of us like porn and don't think christian values should define our lives. Keep deleting my posts and indoctrinate away.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years, 4 months ago

You might enjoy looking at porn, and that's OK with me, as long as you keep it private. Go ahead, look and post all you want, but keep it very private. Christian or other philosophical values perhaps should not, and do not, have to define your values or your life.

But posting about it on a public forum such as this is not private, and for what it's worth, my opinion is that no one is being indoctrinated by having your posts deleted. No one is going to be indoctrinated by something that they never saw.

I didn't see your post. But, anyone that can access the web can read these posts, that is, children, don't need to be seeing some things.

WHY 7 years, 4 months ago

Watching porn and discussing porn are two different activities (usually). Porn doesn't offend me. If a kid is online reading the news he is mature enough to hear someone say that porn may not be offensive and may have a great sociological purpose and be a fun way to spend a day.

Indoctrination occurs when the debate is closed to all non standard views rather than allowing the marketplace of ideas determine who is right.

Paul Hahn 7 years, 4 months ago

Many of these posts are turning this into a moral issue and a privacy issue. For some, keeping porn out of their homes is a matter of morality, but for others it's a matter of freedom from something that many, like myself, have found enslaving.

Think of it this way. I like french fries. No one would argue the morality of eating fries. We are all free to enjoy fries, if that is our choice. But what if I am a food addict, and my main weakness becomes french fries? Would anyone criticize me if I put an app on my iPhone that sends a text message to an accountability partner when I pull into the McDonald's parking lot? I'm now 500 lbs and my wife has left me because she can't stand to be in second place behind curly fries.

Would anyone criticize my decision to allow others to snoop on me so I can gain freedom from the siren call of fried foods? Would they make comments about privacy and self-righteous agendas, or would they empathize with my need for help?

Men who would like help with their porn problem can find help here:

lawrencenerd 7 years, 4 months ago

As I stated before, it seems that this program would be really easy to work around, costs too much, and would only be helpful to people who are technologically stunted. A quick search brought up a bunch of christian websites, this article, and a review that not only tells you how easy it is to work around it, but suggests cheaper or free programs that work better. It got 1.5 out of 5 stars.,2817,2370390,00.asp

Again, I know you are just going to keep trying to sell people on an inferior product so you can make 9 bucks a month off of somebody who doesn't know they can get something much better for free. Enjoy your placebo.

lawrencenerd 7 years, 4 months ago

The review is from about 3 months ago. I'm not concerned about people trying to spy on me, I'm the only person that uses my computer. 9 bucks a month for a program that doesn't work well isn't reasonable, and this is clearly targeted at people who don't know squat about computers.

One of these owners responded a month ago and said he'd post back when they addressed the problems. He hasn't, so I'm assuming the problems haven't been addressed.

I don't work for a competitor, and have no use for such software. I'm not a child and I don't need a slap on the hand when I've done something wrong. I'm also not prone to compulsive behavior.

It is pretty clear to me you don't understand that there is a large difference between compulsive behavior (what you are calling "addictions" here) and addiction. I'm aware of more than you think.

Also, I find it rather interesting that my previous comment with a link to a very recent review of how awful this product is gets removed. I'll post it again in a reply to this one, and lets see if it stays. I think people should be informed that they are paying a monthly fee for what is essentially shovelware.

Greg DiVilbiss 7 years, 4 months ago

Version 2.0 that was released about two weeks ago answers most of the items mentioned in the early review of the software. Neil J. Rubenking the reviewer at PC Mag did us a favor by putting the software through its paces too see where we might improve the user experience.

We said we would post an update when items were fixed but PC Mag only allows one user review. Mr. Rubenking has told us that he is looking forward to taking another look at the product and we look forward to that review as well.

This is a completely new category of software that is addressing a problem that has developed since the internet started. Online addictions is a new field in psychology, but their is plenty of information out their regarding the harm of spending to much time online. Whether you call it an addiction or a compulsion makes no difference, it is the impact to individuals that matters, families destroyed, financial ruin or just the loss of interpersonal relationships.

Saavi has been endorsed by therapists all over the country because they know what a helpful tool this is. When dealing with online addictions a person has to want to change. Even if they do, they may need support. We offer a way to support an individual who is struggling. Technology is not going to change the heart of a person, but using a relational approach and technology as a tool to change, can.

For parents, setting standards and holding the family accountable to those standards is key to having children learn to make right decisions, even when they are not at home. Blocking and filtering takes the choice away, to make right decisions. We believe learning to be accountable to the things we say and the things we do is important.

We are committed to making a difference and we promise to continue to enhance the software and make it even better. Our goal is to help individuals struggling to have hope and to transform their life. Help parents have a tool that increases discussion in the home about what is acceptable behavior.

I would encourage anyone to judge for themselves the value of the product, we have a free trial. The license is for up to four computers. You can learn more at

Respectfully, Greg DiVilbiss C.O.O. Saavi

WHY 7 years, 4 months ago

LJW must not have had time to ask independent questions about the product. Much better to advertise for a company making a defective product because it fits a popular social agenda.

Budmeyer 7 years, 4 months ago

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