After learning the news that a 13-year-old Virginia girl had communicated with her killer on the popular Kik Messenger App prior to her abduction and murder in January, a lot of parents are beginning to ask more questions about the apps their kids use—and how they use them.
Though it’s always important for young people to know about protecting themselves against predators and other dangers online, some apps pose more risks than others. We’ve been raising concerns for a while now about Kik Messenger and why it isn’t a safe way for kids, teens or students to be communicating.
Why is the Kik Messenger App so bad for teens?
Here are a few excerpts from news outlets around the country that help to tell the story of how Kik—which is used by 40 percent of American teenagers, according to the company—puts kids at risk.
Kik…has been the bane of law enforcement officials for the past couple of years. The app grants users anonymity, it allows searches by age and lets users send photos that aren’t stored on phones. It’s popular with tweens and teens — and predators. Have your kids’ passwords, have a working idea of how to use your kids’ phone. Mom and Dad bought it for them, they need to know how to use it. Never let your kids have in-depth, online conversations with strangers. If your kid has crossed the line, ask your phone carrier to have your kid’s phone mirrored to your phone. Every text, every picture they send, Mom and Dad can see on their device. –The Washington Post
Kik is a space that parents are unlikely to know about. But it is also a place where inappropriate sexual content and behavior can flourish. Law enforcement officials say Kik goes further than most widely used apps in shielding its users from view, often making it hard for investigators to know who is using it, or how. “Kik is the problem app of the moment,” said David Frattare, commander of the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which includes hundreds of law enforcement agencies. ‘We tell parents about Kik, and to them it’s some earth-shattering news, and then it turns out it’s been on their kid’s phone for months and months. And as a law enforcement agency, the information that we can get from Kik is extremely limited.’ –The New York Times
Like Instagram, Snapchat and other messaging rivals, Kik provides free, easy and instant connections to other users anywhere. Kik enables people to message each other one-on-one or in group chats, and to share photos, videos and other content. By enabling people to identify themselves only by an invented username, it provides more anonymity other than services. Law enforcement officials say the application is dangerous in part because parents cannot reliably prevent anonymous strangers from contacting their children if they use it. The company (Kik) can give authorities some user-provided details, such as name, email address, profile picture and birthdate, but says ‘this information isn’t verified by Kik, meaning we don’t have any way to know if it’s accurate.’ –The Associated Press
One issue that many parents have is that the app allows anonymous people to contact their children. “My daughter can text her friends, yes. But she can also text people she doesn’t know,” said one reviewer. “My daughter has had people she doesn’t know send VERY VERY explicit pictures of themselves.” This is further complicated by the fact that the app is age restricted only to 12+, so parental controls will not stop many teens under 18 from getting the app. ‘As a parent or guardian, you can give permission to your teen to use Kik only if they give you access to their account,’ according to the Kik blog. ‘If you have access to your teen’s smartphone or iPod, you’ll be able to view up to the last 1,000 messages for each chat.’ –NBC12
Kik has become ‘the defacto app’ for child predators, according to an investigative report. The joint report found accounts belonging to users convicted of child abuse were not being removed. An investigative report claims that Kik Messenger, an instant messaging app popular with children and teenagers, has become “the defacto app for grooming children online,” in part due to its ease of access to minors. –Verge
Undercover sting nets arrest of man accused of trying to solicit teen for sex… The case began in early June when investigators said [a predator] used the KIK messenger app to communicate with an undercover Orange Park police officer who was posing as a 14-year-old girl. –News 4 Jacksonville
Josh Ochs, founder of SmartSocial.com lists Kik in the site’s Red Zone—a list of apps to avoid—for a number of reasons, including the fact that users can be tracked down by anyone who has their username, or can guess it (as spammers do every day). And nothing more than an email address is required to open an account.
Ochs’ strongest recommendation about Kik is simply to get it off your kids’ phone. But he cautions that with any social media, there are guidelines everyone should share with their kids to help them stay safe:
- Block any users you don’t know, make you uncomfortable or raise red flags.
- Don’t ever share your personal phone number with anyone you don’t know.
- Don’t reply to messages from people you don’t know.
- Instead of Kik or other “Red Zone” apps, consider the many safe alternatives we list in the Green Zone on our site.
To learn more about Kik Messenger in particular and how it works, check out our video “Facebook, WhatsApp, SMS & Kik Messenger App Comparison,” which offers a side-by-side comparison of the way these messaging apps work—and why not all are created equal when it comes to your child’s safety.