Kik, another popular messaging app, has always made it clear that they were targeting youth who want to get out from under their parents’ wings.
For Kik, youth are the primary focus; […] you have to get the youth on your side, in a safe and authentic way.” founder and CEO Ted Livingston wrote in 2014.
What makes Kik different than other popular messaging apps like Instagram, Facebook, or Snapchat, is that once you’re inside Kik, you also have other apps like a browser, music player and online gaming. It’s easy to sign up anonymously as Kik does not require a real name or phone number.
My Personal Story
Kik was installed by my daughter on her iPod Touch when she was in grade 6, and it started as a simple communication tool for her and her friends to keep in touch. I couldn’t have predicted what happened next. My daughter got a message from someone she thought she knew.
The conversation started fairly innocently –
How’s it going?
Until photos of this boy’s genitals were shared.
This last post occurred while she was at school and my daughter didn’t know what to do. She had enough courage to tell her mom and me that she had installed the app and signed up for an account, and then she showed us the conversation. My wife involved the school and the police, who were able to trace the conversation back to the user: a 16 year old boy in New York State with a history of this behaviour.
I was impressed by how the members of this geographically-separated police force were able to work together to find this young man. The fact that there are numerous resources dedicated to this kind of problem illuminates the fact that this is an incredibly real problem.
Why it’s popular
- Set-up is easy and doesn’t require a phone number or cellular data plan. Kids can use a tablet or smartphone with Wi-Fi only.
- The built-in apps: web browser, music player, games etc.
- Chat bots – Chat bots allow messaging apps like Kik to expand functionality inside their app and allows the user to interact with them like a normal conversation. Functionality like weather, shopping or even Vine videos can easily be added by interacting with a chat bot via the common @username approach. So instead of opening the weather app or opening their browser to check on the weather, a user can just interact with a bot like a normal conversation – like “what’s the temperature outside?” and it will answer in the same chat window. This is a new development for messaging apps in 2016 so should be interesting how this progresses
- Due to its anonymity, predators can easily mask who they are and approach the younger users with inappropriate conversations and content
- A number of events involving child luring and explicit content have occurred on Kik – re-read my personal story above ⬆
- Kik, as a company, claims they are focused on youth and their “improvements” to their security but Kik has yet to change requirements for signing up
- Having other apps inside Kik, like the web browser, allows your child to browse the internet without any filters for inappropriate content.
Tips for parents
- The same privacy, security and safety/common sense approaches we teach our kids for face to face moments apply here as well
- Kik has a Law Enforcement Resource Center area on their website with ongoing webinars and resources
- Have a conversation with your kids about the kind of apps they’re using, the people they’re talking to, and what kind of tools they’re using to express themselves
- Lastly, education and open communication between parents and kids are the key to avoiding these events in the first place