In September of 2019, Kik Messenger announced that it was going to shut down. The anonymous messaging app was one of the most dangerous apps we had ever encountered and had a major child predator problem — in 2018 the BBC reported that the Kik Messenger app was featured in 1,100 child sex abuse cases in the UK alone. As of this update, they have not set a date for closing down the app but the closure is imminent.
In this video podcast Josh Ochs interviews Jere Simpson and Jared Agnew, co-founders of Net Pure; Jacob DiMartino, founder of Raadr; and Dr. Don Austin; Superintendent of Palos Verdes Peninsula USD to ask them Kik Messenger safety tips for parents and educators that can help kids stay safe on social media—and even be productive.
Can anonymous apps like Kik Messenger be safe for students?
We’ve been hearing a lot in the media about Kik Messenger and how this app can be bad for your entire family, especially students.
We do a lot of education at Net Pure as a way to inform parents and help them make smart decisions, and what we find a lot of times is they get a list from school of apps their kids shouldn’t use. The problem is that list changes all the time. So we work to help parents figure out what makes an app dangerous rather than just consulting a list.
Parents should watch out for apps that combine anonymous messaging with geographic matching. – Jere Simpson
The one thing we really want to impress upon parents is to watch out for apps that combine anonymous messaging with geographic matching. These allow people to get in touch with someone they don’t really know, and it’s local. For people who exploit children, their ambition is to eventually make a physical connection, so those are absolutely the most dangerous.
Kik obviously falls into that category, and right here in our state, unfortunately, there was the tragedy in which a 13-year-old girl was murdered. She was using Kik somewhat like a dating site and wanting to meet people outside of the way she normally would. And she met her murderer through Kik.
What makes Kik particularly dangerous is that not only does it combine the anonymous messaging with geographic matching, but Kik is not an American company, and as such there are different rules and laws as to how they are to cooperate with law enforcement in the United States. Predators know this, so they tend to target apps like that.
A lot of parents ask us, well, what about Google Hangout, what about GChat? GChat doesn’t match with location. While in theory you could be anonymous, online predators know that Google is the best in their business at figuring out as much about you as possible. They’re very good at being able to reverse engineer exactly who is behind any anonymous message, because they’re an advertising company at heart. So we don’t deem that in the same class as something like Whisper, Kik or Snapchat. — Jere Simpson, Net Pure
Set good ground rules first. Then kids can communicate with others within your rules. – Jacob DiMartino
I’ve talked to a lot of parents where their kids have actually been bullied through apps like this. But as you can see, it gets very dangerous outside of bullying too. So we suggest things that can be more controlled. Facetime is a big one if the parents can have some control over that.
Kids are going to be kids, and they’re going to try to get around things, but the main thing we want to emphasize with parents is setting good ground rules first. Kids shouldn’t be on their phone late at night, and there should be monitoring. So to find the best alternatives to Kik, start by setting ground rules on exactly how their kids should be interacting and who they should be interacting with. Set those ground rules, and then they’ll go out and find apps where they can conversate and communicate with others within your rules.
—Jacob DiMartino, Raadr
What we’re trying to tell our parents and our teachers is, know the right questions to ask your kids. – Dr. Don Austin
I think if the parents goal is to keep up with every new app that comes up, they’re always going to feel a higher level of anxiety, because it just isn’t possible. So what we’re trying to tell our parents and our teachers is, know the right questions to ask your kids. I had an experience with this this morning. I was talking to my daughter who’s a senior in high school, and I said, ‘I’m preparing for this conversation about the Kik app—what would you say about it?’ And the very first thing she brought up is that it’s anonymous. So as a parent and as an educator, that leads me to the ability to have more questions about why that’s a good or bad thing and what her thought is.
The second thing she came out with was the ability to search, which she thought was a really bad thing. Again, that’s another opportunity to have a conversation with a student. So now I don’t have to be the expert on every app that comes out. But we at least need to know the questions to get the conversation started, and then we can talk about, okay, it doesn’t matter what the app is—how should we act in these environments? So that’s where we spend the bulk of our time. — Dr. Don Austin
Parents: Please ask your students if they have the Kik app, and if any strangers have contacted them.
Parents: Please ask your students if they have the Kik app, and if any strangers have contacted them. – Josh Ochs
I have one friend on Kik and didn’t share my username with anyone. However, when I open up the app—and this happens to children all the time—several strangers are reaching out to me asking, Are you up? Are you there now? And these are people I’ve never reached out to, met or told my user name.
Fake people on Kik Messenger are phishing me to see if I will respond.
When I noticed all of these messages, I was confused. Could I know these people and not be aware of who they are on this app? Should I reach out and try to see who it is so I can connect? Is it rude to not respond? I’m a social-media safety-guy, and if I’m confused about whether these people know me or not—and they definitely don’t—do you think your children would be confused? I think the answer is yes. — Josh Ochs
How can we teach kids about data safety vs. data vulnerability?
In light of the conflict between Apple and the FBI over trying to unlock the iPhone of a terrorist—what tips would you have for parents to say ‘Everything you do could end up being hacked and becoming public’?
Let your child know there is nothing private on the Internet… – Jared Agnew
Parents need to educate their children as best they can. Most of the school districts that we deal with are making an effort to educate parents so they can do that. But the big thing is to let your child know that there is nothing private on the Internet—nothing that’s going to escape archiving in some shape or form. But I think, specifically with Apple, however you feel on this issue, they have one of the strongest parental controls as part of their ecosystem that’s available. It’s granular enough so you can shut off the ability for a child to shut off their own history. So they make it possible for parents to make sure they’re in control of their children’s device. We’re not specifically promoting Apple, but in this issue, it is a major concern. —Jared Agnew, Net Pure
Usually an app’s privacy statement will say whether the information is personally identifying or not. – Jere Simpson
If I can add to that, over the past five years this has brought up concerns at our company in that we want to make sure that we hold as little data as possible so we won’t be in this compromising position. And Apple has really done the best that they can to do that, because they do have to give over the information they have when subpoenaed, and so they’ve tried to reduce what they have. That’s why this has come up in the first place is because they gave over all their messages. They’re all encrypted. So now the government, to try to track these terrorists down, wants to get that data. So we really encourage parents to look at what their kids use and then do a quick query on those companies and how much of your data they hold.
Usually someone’s privacy statement will say whether the information is personally identifying or they just hold general demographics. So if it’s general and they’re studying behavior for advertising purposes, but it’s not tied to you and your kids, that’s not so bad. But when it’s specifically tied to you because they’re trying to advertise back to you, then they’re collecting a lot of your data.—Jere Simpson, Net Pure
What are productive ways students can use screen time safely?
As parents, we’ve got educate students that the things they post will change their online footprint. – Jacob DiMartino
Screen time is inevitable these days. Gone are the days when people say, ‘My 13-year-old has no screen time—no TV, no iPad, no iPhone.’ I’m seeing younger and younger kids spending a lot of time on these devices. How can screen time be safe and productive for students?
I think the first thing is setting times when kids use screen time. Also, what are they doing on screen time? Incorporating education and educational apps—there are thousands of them out there—enables kids to be learning and evolving in screen time.
Then, students are not just using screen time in a productive way but as a footprint-building process. At the end of the day, kids don’t understand that future employers can see what they’re putting out there. Future employers can go to their social media—they do, it’s been proven—and they see what they’re posting. So as parents, as administrators, as people in the community, we’ve got to sit down and educate them about why the things you’re putting out matter. So I think we need to make sure parents understand that what these kids are putting out becomes a digital resume. It’s a new world we live in. —Jacob DiMartino, Raadr
While I don’t think device time-limits really work, I think blackout times are really important. – Don Austin
Try to talk about ‘focus time.’ Let’s say your student is in front of a traditional computer screen—do they have to have seven windows open? Do they have Facebook and Twitter up, and they’re trying to multitask and still get things done? The research shows that even people who think they can multitask don’t do it as well as they think.
When you look at phones…I’m as guilty as anyone. It’s not uncommon to be at dinner and all five of us are on our phone.
I ask myself, what are we doing? So while I don’t think time limits really work—it’s like going on a diet; it’s just going to last a short period of time—I think blackout times are really important. Also, set age-appropriate limits. The younger you are, it’s probably even more important to be less dependent (on social media). The longer you can string out the dependency and make it later, the better, because at some point in time you’re probably going to lose that battle. At the same time, I think what Jacob said about your digital footprint is so important, and that’s some of the work that Josh does with our students—actually showing examples of things that were posted by people. It makes it more real. We advise kids, ‘These are the kinds of searches people will do on you, so go do them on yourself to find out what they’re going to see.’ It’s eye opening. — Dr. Don Austin
Thank you to our guest experts that helped to share Kik Messenger safety tips for parents and educators.
Remember, keeping your students safe online is marathon, not a sprint. It takes a lot of work and starts with having a healthy dialog with students.