How Concerned Should Parents Be About Kik?

Kik is one of the more popular messenger apps used by tweens and teenagers. Parents should learn about this app because it has a history of being a breeding ground for online predators, spammers, hackers and more. Worse yet, I’ve spoken with local law enforcement officers who report that the company has been very reluctant to help them with cases involving cyberbullying and harassment where other platforms would be more willing to help.

Kik was going to shut down in 2019 but came back in a modified format. In the new format, users can have Kik put them together into a private chat based on mutually liked topics, such as music, games, travel, etc. These private rooms are anonymous, and users have several minutes to decide if they wish to continue the discussion using their official profiles.

Another feature allows people can create group chats for up to 50 people. The members of the group stay in the group even after they stop using the app each day so they can return to it later. Additionally, Kik has created quite a few public chatrooms for groups based on topics like where they live, hobbies, etc. Many of them, especially those that are from a specific geographic area, tend to fill up quickly. That makes them an easy place for predators to find local targets.

Take a look at the graph below to see how I rate Kik on several key areas of concern for parents. In my article for Pediatric Safety on Instagram, I explain in much more detail what the values on the graph mean and how using an app might endanger a child, but here it is in short form:

What the Numbers Mean:

The numbers / ratings represent the likelihood that you will see the risky behavior occur within this app.

  • Rating < 5 is minimal risk and is highly unlikely to occur on the platform, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen.
  • A rating of 5-6 is average risk – it should concern parents, but not overly so.
  • A rating of 7 or 8 is problematic and should concern parents quite a bit.
  • A 9 or 10 rating is very troubling as that behavior is almost a certainty within this app, and involves issues that are likely of extreme concern to parents, such as sextortion and child pornography.

Catfishing (10 out of 10)

Of all of the apps that I’ve seen, Kik rates the worst when it comes to the number of catfish (fakes) on it. Similar to Whisper, Kik is considered an “anonymous app”, but unlike Whisper, it actually has a profile of sorts. This can trick people into believing that the person at the other end is as shown in the profile. It’s not a safe assumption, but many people, especially inexperienced kids, often make it.

Cyberbullying (7 out of 10)

Cyberbully can happen on any site and Kik is no different. It is pretty easy to block someone who attacks you directly in private messages. Where cyberbullying is most likely to happen is within a Kik group. Once in a group, the members can “roast” another person. Unlike the humorous roasts people see on TV of celebrities, social media roasts tend to be cruel. Imagine being attacked online, live, by dozens of people all at once!

I’ve been invited into more than one group, only to be roasted because of my age (I show my real age). When teens see someone old enough to be their father on Kik, they feel the need to treat them with disdain. Many either see me as a predator or at the least, a weirdo for being online with teenagers. I take that as a good sign, actually, that those teens are at least looking out for predators. Sometimes, however, I’ve been approached by younger users who want to start a relationship with me.

Language (10 out of 10)

One of the funniest things on Kik is seeing people using intentionally incorrect spelling. They’re trying to avoid being detected by filters to help identify cyberbullying, sexting and the like. For example, rather than saying that they are looking for sex, they will put spaces between the letters. Another option is to spell words phonetically.

What they fail to realize is that the site has no interest in doing such a thing. Even casual observation by the company would notice how prevalent the problem is and if the company wanted to take action, they could do so easily. If they wanted to scan for people who type, “I want sex,” they can also scan for people who type, “I want s e x,” or some other common variation of vulgar/inappropriate speech.

Profanity, racial and homophobic slurs are very common on Kik. As are attacks based on nationality, political beliefs and just about anything else that people can think of to attack. The public groups created by people are often listed as “unmoderated” or “no limits” and the posts in those rooms can get intense, but not always. I’ve seen some group admins be responsible and remove users who act inappropriately.

Nudity (9 out of 10)

This app features plenty of nudity on it, including both pictures and videos. Like many social media apps, users have a profile picture. While many of the accounts have acceptable images, that’s not always the case. Some users include inappropriate images, even of younger children.

Private chats between users can embed images directly in the conversation. I have seen quite a bit of nudity sent, usually from automated accounts trying to get me to follow a link to have access to even more images. I have also received unsolicited images and videos from people that contain nudity, both of men and women. Below is a private message sent directly to me from an account that I never engaged with previously. The image on the left is the profile picture on the account.

I have reported accounts to Kik but have never seen any actions taken as a result. It is possible that the service took actions without telling me, but I have my doubts. Even if they did, it’s all too easy to simply start a new account with another email address.

Privacy (5 out of 10)

I don’t consider any app/site to be private. That said, Kik scores lower than most simply because of how it works. There is really no expectation of privacy on the app. Users can block individual users from contacting them, but that’s about it. My personal blocked list has several hundred accounts on it.

Sexting (10 out of 10)

Despite what the original or publicly claimed intention was for Kik, it has evolved into essentially a pure sexting app. I’ve spent quite a bit of time on this app and while there are a few people not looking for sexting, I find that the majority of users are hoping to find someone for sexting purposes.

Beyond the posting actively looking for people to sext or roleplay with, a innocuous introduction to someone, such as “Hi.” or “How are you?”, can often result in an obscene reply, often with images. Considering the amount of catfishing that happens on the site, who knows if the images are of the actual user.

Sextortion (9 out of 10)

Hand in hand with sexting comes sextortion, the blackmailing of someone to provide nude images/videos. If you’re not familiar with what sextortion is, take 60 seconds to watch this video. It is a very realistic demonstration as to how sextortion starts.

Stalking (5 out of 10)

Offline stalking with this app is very difficult to do, so long as users don’t share personal information with others, such as telling them where they live or go to school.

With its anonymous nature and limited profile, the only way that most people can be stalked on Kik is by not blocking people who might follow them on the app. Even if they do, people can easily create a new profile and stalk people and predators are known for having multiple accounts on each apps to stalk people and avoid being blocked. Some even use another account to create two distinct personalities – one to stalk and harass someone and another to befriend the person.

Viruses (10 out of 10)

Most of the accounts that I have blocked appear to be automated accounts (bots). They typically offer free nude pics to anyone who will follow the link provided. I have never followed any of the links, because it’s one of the easiest ways to allow viruses/malware access to your device.

I can’t say it any plainer than this: just don’t follow any link that you don’t absolutely know it’s origin and destination, no matter where it looks like it might be taking you. To see what I mean, read this article I wrote on malware and see just how easy it is for people to trick you.

Bottom Line

It’s all too easy for bad things to happen to good people on Kik. I’m not saying that the company does this intentionally, but I haven’t seen much in the way of the company helping prevent it. Bark, a company that provides parenting software for kids’ devices reported earlier this year that Kik has the most flagged app for severe sexual content.

To help navigate Kik as safely as possible, kids should do the following:

  1. Personally, I don’t trust any of the KiK accounts to be what they claim to be. Trust but verify is very difficult to practice here, as there are way too many accounts that seem to be something other than what they claim to be.
  2. Remember that links don’t always take you where they look like they may go. Never follow a link sent by someone to avoid the risks of having viruses and malware accidentally installed on your device.
  3. Avoid giving anyone information that can be used to help locate you to avoid giving a potential predator a way to track you down. That includes giving them an email address, credentials to a different social media account (very common on Kik) or personal information such as your address or phone number.

With four topics receiving a maximum of 10 and two that received a 9, Kik is an app that parents should think twice about before letting their kids use it.

As I mentioned earlier, I have already done a similar article here on Instagram as well as one on Whisper and will be doing more apps in the future, so please feel free to check back here for more articles on popular apps. You can also check out my other articles here on Pediatric Safety by visiting my profile and complete list of articles.

Related Posts

Coughy Cup

2015-12-18 07:00:00
coughycup

1

Chase Away Your Little One’s Winter Blues

2013-01-07 08:00:00
rrobinson

1

New FDA Standards for Sunscreen Announced

2011-06-16 13:18:38
abaumgartner

1

6 Tips to Help Your Child Get Quality Sleep

2018-04-20 06:45:00
jdruski

1

About the Author

Joe Yeager is the founder of Safety Net of PA, LLC and has been a cybersafety advocate for several years. He is also an adjunct professor at Thomas Jefferson University. It was after his own daughter came across inappropriate content online that he became involved in helping others in the area. He is certified by the US Centers for Disease Control in Bullying Prevention and is the cyberbullying advisor to Fifty Shades of Purple against Bullying. He is also the author of #DigitalParenting- A Parent's Guide to Social Media, Cyberbullying &Online Activity which was chosen as an Editor’s Pick in April 2016. Joe is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

Comments

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!