We have said it before and we will say it again: many, though not all, applications and software risk exposing kids to unwanted attention and identity theft whether we like it or not.
One such application, which may have good intentions and is being marketed as kid-friendly, is the Kik App, but it may not be as friendly to kids as it aims to be.
Law enforcement officials have expressed their concern over the degree of anonymity that Kik App allows its users and foresee that online predators may use and abuse to bait unknowing kids. Kik is really popular with teens and kids so full anonymity borders on being really dangerous.
Kik, Kids And Law Enforcement
The cases of kids getting kidnapped and raped by people they chat with on popular messaging apps are rising and Kik is one of the more obvious choices for sexual predators because one only needs to sign up with a username instead of anything traceable like a mobile number.
"You don't generally find people over 20 using Kik [...] Knowing that, where's the best place to go meet kids if you're a predator?" Unified Police Department's Detective Ken Hansen said.
Det. Hansen's concern is backed up by Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Commander David Frattare who claims that the information law enforcement can gather from Kik is too limited.
"Kik is the problem app of the moment [...] We tell parents about Kik, and to them it's some earth-shattering news, and then it turns out it's been on their kid's phone for months and months," he said.
That is not to say that Kik does not cooperate with law enforcement. On the contrary, Kik even has a Law Enforcement Resource Center in its site which also guides those in law enforcement to navigate around the app. But it is not really the solution, is it?
Kik And Anonymity
The problem is how the company thinks the degree of anonymity is justified.
"We view user names and anonymity as a safe way to connect with people you meet on the Internet," Kik Spokesperson Rod McLeod said.
It is already obvious that too much freedom and anonymity is doing more harm than good to its users, otherwise, the cases of kids getting solicited, kidnapped and raped should not have happened. How about the case of the 13-year-old from Virginia who was raped and killed by an 18-year-old who communicated with her through Kik? Or one of the 14-year-olds who were raped by people they met on Kik? That is not very safe.
Kik And Its Overwhelming Sense Of Security
Another thing that is troubling about Kik's perception about anonymity is that it seems to be in denial that such cases can happen to its users. How So? Well, according to its own blog, Kik users belong to any of the eight categories: Best Friend, Crush, New Friend, Acquaintance, Sibling, Bots, Parents, and The Squad.
Does everything seem rose colored there or is that an active attempt to give its users a false sense of security?
Parents, You Have Been Warned
To prove just how bad it gets for kids who use Kik, CBC News created an account and posed as a 13-year- old girl and, within minutes, adult men were soliciting the "teenager." There were messages asking the "girl" to swap live photos with them and even tried to persuade the fictional user that the age difference does not matter. Remember, that is supposed to be the account of a 13-year-old girl so this man-who is just one among the many-attempting to coax the owner of the account is just disturbing.
How about for those who actually have enough sense and support to report perverts and sexual predators? Well, an 18-year-old was receiving creepy messages from an anonymous user and the person continued to do so even after several attempts of the teen to block him. When they finally reported to the police, they said they can't really track the offender because of the anonymity the app affords its users.
We don't know about you but there's something terribly wrong there if Kik can't even give law enforcement the power to protect kids.