Children nowadays are more virtually active than they are physically engaged. They’ve turned social media and gaming platforms into their new playgrounds. Choosing mobile phones over dollhouses and race cars, instant messaging apps over walkie-talkies, and email over letter writing.
While technology advancement is a great thing, it poses potential risks, especially to vulnerable targets including children. Private message apps like Kik, for instance, could be extra beneficial for adults, but a bit dangerous for children.
Kik Features and Flaws
Kik is a free all-in-one platform to send and share messages, photos, and videos. It is, however, also filled with ads and allows in-app purchases. It’s regarded as one of the most private communication tools. It’s only linked to an email address, not a phone number. The app doesn’t read your messages and any residual data is deleted shortly after sent.
Its “Chat”, “Ignore”, “Block”, and “Report as Spam” options allow users to efficiently manage their messages and contacts. These do not get rid of the fact though that kids can be easily contacted by strangers; Kik codes or profiles can be easily found. While they can simply ignore them, kids, being naive and curious, are more likely to entertain anyone who seems “cool” or “kind”. Also, since messages are private, they think it’s okay to converse with whoever they want.
Some of these strangers that pose a risk to children may include:
- Predators: Predators take advantage of the platform, in which the main users are teenagers, to easily and freely perform their malicious intent such as child exploitation and sexual grooming. Due to the rising number of online child abuse cases, Kik has been regarded as a “predators’ paradise”.
- Spammers & Porn Bots: Spammers and porn bots often send adult content and other inappropriate content within the Kik interactive app. Moreover, the app has unverified and unapproved internal webpages that can be easily accessed by children. Some of these are YouTube-like apps with adult content videos, Tinder-like dating apps that matches with strangers, and daring games like Truth or Dare, RolePlay, and Chat Wheel.
The 2016 Kik scandal has certainly created fear and horror, especially among parents. A 13-year old girl was allegedly killed by an 18-year old man whom she met and has been communicating with through the app.
Kik’s Response To Help With Child Safety
Kik messenger has not taken the issues it has faced lightly. While they stood firm with their anonymity feature, they have since partnered with two reputable third-party groups focused on online safety – ConnectSafely and The Technology Coalition.
They have also launched SafePhoto, a program that detects, reports, and deletes inappropriate images. The app is also constantly making the “block” button more prominent.
The developers are encouraging Kik users to report malicious activities. They’re working hand-in-hand with law enforcement officials to address and prevent cybercrimes happening within the app as well.
Kids’ Privacy; Parents’ Worry
Kik was designed for adults which is why there are no strong parental controls for this app. So, is Kik secure for kids? With the above detail, along with several facts and real-life cases, Kik appears to be an unsafe app for kids. This doesn’t mean though that all other apps are completely safe for children. Parents and guardians should never underestimate the possible dangers when their kids are virtually exposed.
It’s vital to educate children about the importance of keeping personal information private and secure. It would also be useful to educate them on the possible dangers and consequences should they become too complacent with online strangers. Parents could also install spy apps on their children’s devices to fully monitor their online and Kik activities.
Technology has, undeniably, become a powerful tool, but as what Aunt Mary has said to Peter Parker, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”