While chat rooms and the risk of children being pursued by predators online may seem like a thing of the past, this threat is still alive and well. In fact, it’s only gotten harder to detect with the advancement of technology, thanks to things like popular social media sites and messaging apps. As The New York Times pointed out, one of those messaging apps in particular, called Kik, has been linked to online predators more than once, which should set off alarms for parents everywhere. Because safety has been called into question over Kik on numerous occasions, it’s important as a parent to know what exactly the app is, how it works and whether or not you should allow your children to use it.
What is Kik?
If you check in on your child’s or their friends’ Instagram profiles, you may have seen something like “add me on Kik” and wondered what that meant. Kik is a free instant messaging app available on iOS, Android and Windows devices. The app allows users to send messages, photos and videos, and is extremely popular among teens, especially because it has an anonymity factor that regular text messaging doesn’t offer. This means essentially anyone who has access to an Internet-enabled device, whether it’s a smartphone or tablet, can download the app, create a username and start chatting with other users on Kik. Unlike WhatsApp, which connects to your mobile phone number before allowing you to create an account, anyone who downloads the Kik app can easily create a new account using only an email address and creating a password.
Equally as easy as creating an anonymous account on Kik is connecting with other Kik users. As long as someone has your username, they can message you without you approving or accepting any message requests first. This means that if strangers can guess your username, they are free to message you without any prior warning. This is especially alarming for parents with young children because the app has over 300 million users worldwide, with over 40% of American youth, according to the Kik’s site, using the app to chat instantly with other users, no matter who they are.
Should I allow my children to use Kik?
The same concept that applies to whether or not you should give your children a smartphone, applies to which apps you allow them to use as well, as it’s completely up to the discretion of the parent. That said, there are a few things parents should know before making a decision on Kik. Much like the Apple vs. FBI case, there have also been court orders with Kik to deliver messages exchanged on the app, as detailed in The New York Times article linked above. Although Kik is able to hand over logs of messages sent and received on the app and has done so in the past when it comes to minors, deleted messages cannot be traced. This makes it harder to catch predators and cyberbullies who delete their message history in an attempt to cover their tracks. And because Kik users aren’t required to connect a phone number to their account, it’s even more difficult to track who’s messaging your children on the app.
As many parents know, online predators aren’t the only thing to worry about when it comes to children and online safety. Cyberbullying is another very real threat that parents should always be on the lookout for. If your child wants to use Kik, make sure you talk with them about the dangers of sharing their personal information, including their Kik usernames, on other social media platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook, as this makes it even easier for strangers to get in touch with them on the app. If you don’t want your child using the app at all, Kik offers some tips on how parents can do so.
And because Kik isn’t the only anonymous app out there, it’s important for parents to stay in the know about which social media websites and apps their children are using, and how exactly these apps work. Be sure to follow our parental control blog to learn more about protecting your children online.