Kik is a free messenger app that can be downloaded on cell phones, IPods and other devices not associated with a telephone number. The app permits members to privately message one another, which appeals to members who aren’t interested in the public messaging services from Facebook or cell phones.
The app is intended for users age 17 and older, but it is estimated that most of the 185 million app users are between the ages of 11 and 15. Kik members are not required to share any personal information and are only identified by their user names. Teenagers love the Kik app because it allows them to quickly send messages, videos, pictures and sketches.
Kik’s website indicates that Kik conversations are private because they are only stored on the sender’s phone, not on Kik servers or any other systems, meaning Kik does not have access to any of the conversations facilitated by the app. The Kik website also claims that the company does not verify any of its members’ information and only retains their first and last names, profile photo and email address. A third party maintains the members’ IP addresses the addresses are not verified by Kik. It also appears that in limited situations a member’s user transaction history can be revealed; however, the messages and phone numbers remain confidential.
Unfortunately Kik does not provide for any parental controls, so the app is attractive to teens who want to use the app to send sexually explicit messages and photos, also known as “sexting”. It’s common for teens to use the app to send nude pictures to one another or to start conversations with strangers. Anyone can search for random user names and begin a private conversation with those users. Since there is no way of authenticating Kik members it is easy for pedophiles, drug dealers, and pornography collectors to use the app to prey on vulnerable teens and preteens.
The Technology Wellness Center strongly encourages parents to proceed with caution if their child is using the Kik app. First, you should read through any messages on the Kik app to determine if your child is using the app appropriately. Do they message strangers or just friends? Are random users attempting to contact them? If you find you are uncomfortable with the app or if your child is using the app in an inappropriate or dangerous way, delete the app and set parental controls on the age level for apps your child download. Kik is rated for those 17 and older, so setting the parental controls according to your child’s age can limit their access to dangerous apps like Kik. Lastly, parents need to have an open discussion about this app, and all apps, with their children. You need to know what apps your children are using and how they’re using them. We also recommend having all the passwords to your child’s social media accounts and checking them often to ensure your child is using their accounts appropriately. This dialogue needs to be ongoing as new apps, with their own hidden dangers, are developed and introduced to the market.