Kik from a Parent's Perspective

August 8, 2016

Kik is popular with kids for several reasons.  I’ve been using it for several months now.  Mostly observing how people use the app and how they treat each other on it.  Here’s my conclusion: parents should not let their children use the app.  Here’s why:

 

I am not one to blame any app or piece of technology for what happens on it.  When something goes wrong, I blame the person that committed the inappropriate behavior.  And let me tell you, there is a lot of inappropriate behavior on Kik.

 

Anonymity is Key

Like most social media apps, it’s virtually impossible to really know who you’re talking to on Kik.  However, the app’s website clearly indicates that they are trying to market themselves to younger audiences. 

Since the app only asks users for an email address to use the app and that information is not readily available to anyone else viewing someone’s profile, it almost encourages people to create a false persona.

 

Once the account is created, it often leaves no trace that parents can find.  For example, messages sent via the app typically do not apply to cell phone plan when the phone is accessing a WiFi network.

 

Parents who don’t know what Kik is might not think to open the app to see what is happening there.  Like most apps, the child’s phone or other device will alert them with a flashing light &/or sound effect when a new message is received.  This alert can be silenced, or muted, as Kik calls it, so that no light or sound is evident.  That’s helpful in a school environment, so that teachers cannot realize what is happening.  I’ve seen plenty of messages in the open chat room where users indicate that they are in class while using the app.

 

The very nature of the app is one of short-term conversations.  While long-term engagement is possible, there is no way to create a friends/followers list.  The only way to keep track of past discussions on the app are:

 

  1. Never delete a private conversation, making it continue to appear in your feed.

  2. Join a group chat (more on this in a bit)

  3. Take a screen shot of someone’s profile so that you can look them up later

  4. If they have liked your profile picture, you can see that list

 

The site does allow people to block users that they do not wish to interact with on Kik.  I like the fact that once blocked, if you accidentally try to interact with them again in the future, it is possible to realize it before you do so again.  I wish the distinction was a little more proactive so that it would be more obvious that you had blocked them in the past.  It’s still a bit too easy to send someone you’ve blocked a new message without realizing that you had blocked them.

 

I’d like to see a pop-up alert appear as soon as you clicked on their profile.  Instead, you need to know the difference in how their profiles appear to you as your only guidance as to if you have blocked them.  There are days when I think my blocked list is longer than my unblocked list, due mainly to the number of accounts that I’ve blocked because they are not real people, but bots.

 

Bots are Everywhere on Kik

What’s a bot, you ask? It’s a play on the word, “robot,” and means an automaton that automatically sends out posting in the open chat environment in hopes of luring someone to send them a direct/private message.

 

The site itself encourages the use of bots, saying, “Bots on Kik let brands engage their fans in a whole new way.”

 

The problem is that I have yet to see any legitimate brand try to engage fans on the app.  What I have seen plenty of are people that claim to be promoting a new app or are selling nude pictures & videos.  The currency most likely accepted on Kik is a gift card from Amazon, although other types of cards are sometimes accepted.

 

 

 Once someone replies to the original message, an auto reply feature, similar to what you may be used to with your email system, replies with a message.  This auto reply can be immediate or delayed by many minutes, probably to make it appear as though it were a real person, who needed time to reply.  Of course, they could be a real person doing the replies, but I doubt it based on the fact that most never reply back to any subsequent messages.

 

Their reply directs/asks them to do something – usually to follow a link.  Most of the auto-replies that I’ve received have asked that I follow the link to try some “cool new app” or to see naked pics/videos, presumably from the person whose profile picture you see on the account.

 

These links can lead to anywhere, including sites that will introduce viruses and ransomware onto the person’s device.

 

For the same reasons as above, be wary of anyone that is trading Dropbox links.  The app itself is a great help for people who need to exchange files.  Unfortunately, spammers, cyber-thieves and pedophiles often use the site to distribute their materials as well.

 

Chatrooms Galore!

Kik is essentially one giant chatroom.  However, anyone can create a private chatroom, capable of keeping a private dialogue for anywhere from two to fifty people.  Unlike other social media apps that I’ve seen, it is possible to enter and exit these chatrooms at will.  That is, a user can participate in the open Kik platform, enter a private chat, go back to the open chat, etc.

 

Private chat rooms, or “group chats,” as their known by, are run by administrators.  They admit new users and kick out anyone that they feel isn’t acting as they should in the group chat.  It is possible to be joined into a group chat without requesting it.

 

I was very honest in creating my Kik profile.  I included my actual age; which is included with each posting made into a chat, but not on a direct message between users.  I used a real picture of my face, although sometimes, I would use a meme or cartoon.  Because of this, I would occasionally see posts that were most likely directed at me, asking why someone of my age would be on Kik.

 

The first time I was admitted into a group chat without expecting it, I didn’t understand what had happened.  The postings were coming much faster and obviously, from a small group of people.  It led to me being roasted.  These are similar in nature to the comic roasts that you see on television in structure, but hardly in content.  The comments made by those in the chat were offensive and vulgar, to be sure.  I’d seen other roasts and I always tried to support the target of the roast by practicing Positive Slamming.

 

Imagine how your young child would feel being added to a group consisting of online predators.  Keep in mind that most experienced online predators are very skilled at what they do.  They know how to seek out and not attack their prey, but rather, entice their prey.

 

They make them feel be-friended, like there is someone who understands them and their problems.  Only then, do they start grooming their prey and before they know it, they’re victims.

 

Be sure to speak with your children and make sure that they know what is unacceptable to do online.  One of the most common techniques used by online predators is sextortion.  It starts simply enough, earning the target’s trust.  Eventually, the predator encourages the other person to send them a picture containing nudity, or maybe only in their underwear.

 

By this point, they have probably been able to get their target to tell them personal details about themselves.  An example might be which school they attend.

 

Then comes the blackmail.  They tell them that unless they continue to send more pictures, often times, getting more adult-natured, they will show the original picture to their family, friends, classmates, etc.  Fearing what might happen, they comply, making matters worse.  This is an all too common story among teen suicides.

 

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Word.

As I’ve written before, emojis have become a way for teens to speak volumes without parents being aware of what’s really being said.  They’ve become very savvy when it comes to hiding their true intentions in case an adult is nearby or might pick up their phone later and see what was typed.

 

Look at the image below and see if you can tell what’s being said with these three common images.  Keep in mind that these images are not from Kik (I use them generically when I speak to groups), but the site does have comparable emojis.

 

 

The first symbol, the lock, indicates that the person is not involved in a relationship right now.

 

The second emoji, the rainbow, signifies that the person is looking for a same-sex relationship.

 

The final image, the teddy bear, is often used to identify someone who is submissive in a relationship.

 

So, when all put together, those three simple symbols probably indicate that the person is looking for a same-sex relationship, either as the submissive in the relationship or looking for a submissive person, depending on the context/intent.

 

More than Just a Texting App

The app is free to use, but it does have to make money, so it has to make money some way.  The app uses Kik Points.  You get 100 points when you join Kik, but they won’t last long.  To get more, you need to allow them to send you offers (ads) on a daily basis.

 

In addition to the chat room, Kik offers access to a wide variety of other types of apps.  Many of them offer in-app purchases as well using Kik Points. 

 

Law Enforcement’s POV

I’ve spoken to local law enforcement about the app and they’re not loving the app, to say the least.  Part of the problem for U.S. officials is that the company is based in Canada, so U.S. legal concerns are not seen as a high priority.  In more than one case, local law enforcement from here in Pennsylvania have asked for support from the company, only to be rejected.

 

Related to that comes the issue with all social media sites, that the two users come from different countries, so it can be very difficult to prosecute. 

 

Sgt. Michael Hornbrook, of the Indianapolis Metro Police Cyber Crimes Unit says that, “unfortunately in most cases their victims have already shared too much information with the predator by the time police get involved.”

 

This is exactly what happened above with students that get involved with sextortion.  Hornbrook also explains that in one case he remembered, the predator that was attacking a child in Indianapolis was from Australia.

 

A few months ago, a mother from South Africa approached me via my Facebook page.  She was concerned because her daughter had apparently been approached by an online predator.  She had contacted local authorities, but she was not satisfied with their response.

 

She asked me for advice.  From what she could tell, the attacker was based in Russia, or at least, had an email address that suggested that was the case.  Considering the response that she unsatisfactory results that she received from her local authorities, I recommended that she contact Interpol.

 

Takeaway

I realize that I’ve just given plenty of reasons to justify why parents shouldn’t let their kids use Kik.  Still, I don’t blame the app itself.  And I hope you won’t, either.  I’ve actually helped a few people on the site.  Mostly, students asking for help with their homework, if you can believe that.  After reading their questions in the open chat, I’ve sent them private messages leading them to online resources that will help them.

 

Your kids may think that you don’t want them using it because you don’t trust them.  I can’t speak to that, since I don’t know your kids.  What I can say is that if your kids ask you if you don’t trust them and assuming that you do trust them, explain it to them that you can’t trust the others on the site.  The risks are just too great in your opinion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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