Kik Messenger is no longer JUST a messaging app, and is now rated 17+
Updated and edited Jan 2014
What Is Kik?
Kik messenger is an incredibly popular free mobile messaging app with over 1 millions users.
What Are The Dangers?
Schools are reporting that more and more children under the recommended age of 17+ are signing up to use this app. Unfortunately Police and teachers are also reporting increased incidents of kids being approached by adults, being sent photos and videos of porn and increasing incidents of bullying and sexting through Kik Messenger.
Why Is Kik Messenger So Popular With Younger Kids?
Kik Messenger is a convenient, simple & free SMS substitute, which unlike some other free internet messaging services, operates on all mobile platforms. The other thing that makes it very attractive to younger kids, is that it’s one of the only cross platform SMS style messaging apps that doesn’t require a phone number to be registered. For younger kids without a mobile phone this means they can use it on their mobile devices like iPods through Wi Fi. Skype and iMessage also have this ability.
Kik Messenger Is No Longer Rated 13+
Previously Kik Messenger was rated 13+ on the app stores. In November 2012, Kik introduced what are known as “cards” or apps within the app, and the age requirement was increased to 17+.
The cards are located either under the message bar, or behind a slide out panel behind the message bar
Kik “Cards” Have Changed The Safety Level For Kids Substantially!
With the introduction of these internal apps called “cards” the developers rightly decided the app was no longer suitable for children and here’s why.
Kik Apps or “Cards” Bypass Parental Controls
You can of course turn off these “cards” within Kik, but there are no parental controls or pin-like locks to make sure those “cards” are permanently disabled. So your child can access adult images, video and chat with strangers anytime.
40″Cards” now available within the Android version of Kik Messenger Jan 2014
Some of the new “cards” that parents need to be concerned about are:
Image Search: Adult images can be searched for within
PhotoBomb: A Snapchat like photo app which allows the user to send photos within Kik messenger that will supposedly
self-destruct on the receivers end after an set time.
Note: The Snapchat App is well known as a potential “sexting” app because of this self destruct feature. Some teens are using Snapchat to send racy photos to others assuming that the photos will disappear after viewing. According to some reports photos sent via Snapchat can however be retrieved forensically from the phone the photos were received on.
YouTube: Adult content
HeyHey! “Meet new people to chat and play games”
Scroll through profile pictures of strangers and pornographic images to talk to “new friends” online. The pixilated penis profile picture in the screen capture below was in the first page of profile pictures. Lots of requests for underage teenage girls to hook up with older guys.
Chat Now: Find people to Chat Now
Same as HeyHey!
Find Friends: A way to find your Kik Messenger friends, friends…they must sign into the “Find Friends” app also.
Will Kids Want To Use These Cards?
Many children are NOT using these cards yet, they may not have found them. But the developers have already stated that they will be actively promoting the use of these cards to their users, it is the way that Kik will be monitoring their free app. It won’t be long before your child will be made fully aware of the some 40 cards/apps available through this messaging app.
The “cards” look attractive and fun and some are simply harmless games. None of the “cards” show an age rating for adult content, and all can easily be activated by children without the child understanding what the app actually does. The list of these cards is growing, and unlike being able to look for reviews of these apps on the various app stores to see what they actually do, and how secure they are, there are no reviews that I could find for some of these apps like PhotoBomb or Chat Now or Hey Hey.
Many children won’t use the cards, but as they appear below the messages window they will be hard to ignore. “Cards” are the way that Kik hopes to monitise this free app. Disturbingly there are many many children’s profiles featured on the Hook Up apps, unless they are fake profiles, it is clear that many children are using the chat with stranger apps within Kik.
Note: Jan 2014. The cards available on the iTunes version of Kik Messenger are now quite limited. iTunes have disallowed many of the more adult cards in the latest download, but still have YouTube, Reddit (an adult chat board) and Photo Bomb. iPhone users can still get access to any of the cards/apps if they are sent/shared to them, by another user. Android’s Google Play store still allows all the previous cards. Here’s Kik’s blog post on the issue.
The Android Kik Messenger app available on the Google Play store now has 40 apps with some new Music apps, including one for the band “One Direction” This google play store version of Kik will work on any android operating system including Chrome Books, Android Phones and Kindles.
If your child logs into their Kik account from an Android device with the app installed, they can enable the apps not available on the iTunes Kik version so that they then show up on their iDevice Kik app.
How Are Other Users Finding My Child?
If your child follows the constant prompts to allow Kik to scan their address book, the Kik app will then find friends with a Kik account, or… anyone related to that person including adults. When I synced Kik with my address book I received suggestions to “friend” the sons and daughters of my adult friends in my address book, even though the child’s email and phone number was not in my address book.
There are many ways for people to find Kik Messenger user names. You can find them shared on other social media apps like Instagram, Facebook and Miumeet, many Kik users include their Kik user name in their social media bio, usually with the #KikMe tag. Some enterprising folks have gone as far as to to list Kik user names on websites aimed at finding people to hook up with on Kik (no link to those!). Do a search for “Kik Me” on any social media and it will bring up users advertising their Kik Messenger profiles.
Can you block strangers?
The bottom line is you can’t prevent your child being approached by a stranger who may have a pornographic profile pic, or may send your child a pornographic video or photo as way of introduction. It seems most Kik users have at one time been sent messages from a complete stranger. This happens even with the “ignore new messages” feature, and the unique user names that can be set up. You can block other users accounts on Kik Messenger, after they have contacted your child, but some users may have more than one account. The picture on the left shows the email I received this week to remind me to check my “ignored Messages” tab…So even with “ignore new messages” your child will still be alerted and see the messages. You can’t turn these email notifications off.
Kik Messenger and Instagram
Kik Messenger users are using Instagram to find people to chat with privately on Kik. If your child also uses Instagram make sure they are not advertising their Kik Messenger profile name on Instagram.
The picture (below left) shows the search term for Kik Messenger #KikMe on Instagram. There are over 9 million results for #KikMe on Instagram now. Putting this search term in Instagram search will bring up any photos or profiles that have #KikMe as a tag advertising their Kik user name. This is one way users of Kik Messenger find each other online, to then hook up in private message on Kik. The search term #KikMe is also getting more popular on the Facebook search engine.
Pornographic Profile Pictures
Enclosed in Kik Messenger are some adult “Chat with stranger” apps/cards. “Chat Now” (below middle) and HeyHey!” (below right) both had examples of pornographic profile pictures on the first page. Young children also have their profiles advertised on these apps as being available for chatting with anyone. Some of these profiles will be fake, but it is clear that many young children are signing up to “Chat With Strangers” on Kik Messenger, better check to be sure your child isn’t signed up to any like these, there are new ones being added every day just about.
There are no parental controls of course, this app is designed for adults. And the usual parental controls on your child’s device won’t work within the Kik Messenger app. So blocking YouTube for example on your child’s iPod, won’t disable the YouTube app within Kik Messenger.
Some parents are sharing messaging apps with their children to supervise their interactions. This can be especially helpful for younger users. Kik Messenger doesn’t enable this ability. The moment you log into the same Kik account on another device previous messages and conversations are deleted from the account. Logging out of Kik messenger also deletes all previous conversations and messages, which for many parents makes parent supervision quite unreliable.
Because Kik Messenger isn’t dependent on a phone number and doesn’t require any real identification other than a valid email address, it means your child can create a unique user name like “PrincessSparklePony1″ to avoid being searched for by their real name on Kik. Whilst this seems like a good privacy move, it also means that strangers can hide their real identity also. And it seems that even with psudo names strangers are still contacting kids on this app. The only privacy settings available on Kik are the “Ignore New People” setting. However this doesn’t appear to work. Whilst you may not get an immediate notification of a new message from a stranger, users do get emails alerting them to “ignored messages” Any messages from people you haven’t added to Kik go to your ignore messages tab in Kik, they are not deleted until the user does so.
A Safe Messaging App For Kids
If you want your child to have access to a free SMS style messaging app, you need to stick to ones that have no other purpose other than messaging, that have privacy settings that actually do work to block strangers from contacting your child. Safer apps like Skype and iChat are still closed environments, and unless you share an account, you have no ability to really supervise what your children are sharing.
Note: Ensuring that what ever your child shares on these messaging platforms is being respected and not shared or edited and then shared, is impossible.
Therefore I can only recommend Skype and Apples iChat but only with strict supervision. With strict parental controls and privacy settings enabled to prevent contact by strangers. Constant checking of contacts and of the content being transmitted by younger teens. Parents can also share accounts with their teens on these two apps.
Remember how the internet works: You CANNOT supervise or control the recipient of your child’s message, and therefore prevent your child’s content from being shared on, as is, or in an edited perhaps defaced state. Your child is only as safe as their friends are. Education around internet safety is more fail safe in the long run than trying to outwit your child. Boundaries are still very important around apps and the internet to prevent your child being exposed to content they are not old enough to deal with.
Choose safe apps, AND educate yourself and your children about safe internet use.
It is so important that parents try out the apps their kids are using rather than just take their child’s word for it as far as safety goes. It is worth noting that iTunes and Google Play very rarely rate apps at 17+ unless there is a very good reason. If your child is using an app rated for adults you must pay attention!
- Kik Messenger is advertised as a messaging app for adults
- Kik has limited, privacy settings.
- Messages from strangers are not automatically deleted or blocked
- Messages from strangers can contain photos, stickers, and now video
- The apps within the Kik Messenger App cannot be disabled by a parent permanently
- The apps within Kik Messenger are designed for adults, and some have adult content including pornography
- You cannot “share” a Kik Messenger Account with your child
- There are many safer options for our children to message each other
- Teach your children never to accept friend requests from strangers
- Teach your children never to send intimate photos online
- Find a messaging app that has no hidden apps within it, that has secure privacy settings to protect your child from stranger contact
The YouTube video below was made in August 2013. Some of the apps have changed. The New iTunes version of Kik messenger no longer has the chat with strangers apps, but if you kids used those apps in a previous iOS version they will still have access to them. The Google Play (Android) version of Kik Messenger now has 40 apps, including a “One Direction” band app. It won’t be long until kids find these apps if they haven’t already.