Tag Archives: Kik

Keeping Our Digital Children Safe

By Tracey Dowdy

The recent death of 13 year-old Nicole Madison Lovell was a terrible tragedy. A cancer and liver transplant survivor, Nicole lost her life after chatting with strangers on social media and then apparently arranging to meet an 18 year old man through the messaging app Kik. Two Virginia Tech students have been charged in connection with Nicole’s death.

Unfortunately, Nicole’s story is not unique. From the time our children are small we warn them of “stranger danger.” As they get older and become active online, we caution them about the risks of talking to strangers via social media. But according to Pew Research, six out of ten teens say they have at least one friend that they’ve met online and one-third say they’ve gone on to meet that friend in person. Those are sobering statistics.

That teens engage in risky behavior should not be a surprise to anyone. Temple University psychology professor Laurence Steinberg says, “The teenage brain is like a car with a good accelerator but a weak brake. With powerful impulses under poor control, the likely result is a crash.”

Impulse control stems from the frontal lobe of our brain which isn’t fully developed until around age 25, so when teens experience peer pressure or extreme emotions they’re less likely to consider the long-term consequences of their actions.

Pair that lack of judgment with online predators and we have the tragic story of a child like Nicole. She had allegedly been the victim of bullying at school; a situation many experts say can make a teen even more vulnerable to online predators.

Commander of the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force David Frattare says, “Kik is the problem app of the moment,” primarily because the user’s identity is protected. Although the app asks for the user’s real name and email address, Kik works even if they’re fictitious and the app doesn’t require a phone number.

Kik is similar to text messaging but more private. It’s free, allows unlimited messaging, gives users the ability to insert gifs and a variety of emoji’s, and, best of all to many teens, most parents have no idea it exists. However your kids know about it: according to Kik’s website, the app is used by 40 percent of American teens.

Unlike some other messaging apps, written messages on Kik can’t be viewed by outsiders or shown to the police and images or videos are only retained until they’re opened on the recipient’s device. In a case like Nicole’s where there is a court order, Kik can provide law enforcement with a log of a user’s activity and in some cases an IP address, though with 275 million registered users worldwide it’s no small task to sift through the information.

Where does this leave parents? First of all, don’t panic. Although Kik is one of many social media platforms that are being exploited by predators, it’s important not to overreact and take away all your child’s devices. Professor David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, warns us not to become “technophobic.” Remember it’s character, not technology, that makes children and teens vulnerable. Kids who are socially isolated, bullied, struggle with depression, or don’t get along with parents and caregivers are those most at risk.

But how do we protect our children against online predators? Well, there are some excellent mobile phone monitoring apps that can help you control how your child’s phone is used. But remember, no app or parental control can substitute for an open and honest conversation with your kids. Educate them about the risks and long term consequences of interacting with strangers online. Remind them that someone presenting themselves as a peer could easily be a predator and that spur of the moment decisions can sometimes lead to tragic long-term consequences.

Author’s Note: Kik is cooperating fully with law enforcement in the Lovell case. They sponsor an annual conference on crimes against children, as well as providing a law enforcement guide on their website to assist in the prevention of child exploitation.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

7 Messaging Apps That Are Replacing SMS

When texting first became popular, most texts were sent via a wireless carrier’s network. This service (also known as SMS) used to be a huge revenue-generator for the carriers, but is now largely bundled with ‘free’ voice or calling plans as the carriers switch their attention to data.

If you are still using SMS to text your family and friends, then rest assured you are not alone. Despite all the chatter about WhatsApp, SnapChat, Messenger and the rest, SMS remains the #1 messaging option for an overwhelming majority of smartphone owners.

But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be that way forever. The ability to add multimedia functions, group chats, video calls, and much more is quickly adding to the allure of messaging apps, and it seems only a matter of time before they catch up and even surpass the popularity of SMS.

If you have a teenage son or daughter, it’s almost guaranteed that they are using at least one messaging app. If you are thinking of joining them, here are 7 of the more popular options:

Facebook Messenger

messengerTNUp until now, Facebook included a messaging feature in its social network app, so there was no need for a separate download. However, Facebook has just announced that all future mobile messaging will have to be done through the stand-alone Messenger app. Desktop users will be able to continue to use the built-in messaging app as before.

Messenger includes text, group chat, photo and video sharing options, and even stickers. The good thing about Facebook is that almost everyone is on it, so you won’t have to spend time adding all your contacts.

Cost: Free
Platform: iOS, Android, BlackBerry


whatsappTNWith over 500 million active users, WhatsApp is arguably the most popular messaging app in the world – so popular, in fact, that Facebook agreed to pay $19 billion to acquire it! WhatsApp’s strength is its simplicity. Once the app is downloaded, WhatsApp checks your contacts and automatically adds WhatsApp users. You don’t need to send a request to be able to connect through WhatsApp.

WhatsApp supports text messages, group messages, photos and videos, and audio media messages. WhatsApp management has also announced that they are developing a voice option, which will be the equivalent of making a phone call.

Cost: $0.99 per year (first year free)
Platform: iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone


skypeTNEstablished as a desktop tool, Skype has made an uneven transition to mobile, disappointing some early adopters and encouraging other messaging services to step up and fill the void. The Skype mobile app supports text messaging, photos and videos, and face-to-face video and voice calls over Wi-Fi or a wireless network. There is also a low-cost voice calling option to mobile devices and landlines.

Cost: Free (with the exception of some calling options)
Platform: iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone

Google Hangouts

hangoutsTNAlthough Google Hangouts supports an instant text messaging service, its real strength is in multi-person voice and video chats. The video chat option is particularly appealing and supports a number of increasingly sophisticated production options. The messaging app is very basic but it does support photos and GIFs, which can be automatically saved in a Google+ album.

Cost: Free
Platform: iOS, Android


snapchatTNExtremely popular among tweens and teens, SnapChat started life as an instant photo-sharing service that allowed users to add a text caption. The photos automatically disappeared after a few seconds, leading to (largely unfounded) fears of teen sexting. SnapChat also supports plain text chat and has recently added Stories, which allows users to video chat simply by pressing and holding the screen.

SnapChat’s success has attracted the attention of Facebook but so far SnapChat’s founders have rebuffed all acquisition attempts. Both Facebook (Slingshot) and Instagram (Bolt) have recently introduced SnapChat competitors, although Bolt is not yet available in the U.S.

Cost: Free
Platform: iOS, Android


lineTNPopular overseas, LINE supports free voice and video calls as well as regular text messaging, photos and more. Although the app is fee to download, users can spend money on a range of in-app purchases, which include stickers, games and even messages from celebrities. Music and shopping services are expected to follow.

Cost: Free with some optional in-app purchases
Platform: iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone


kikTNWith the decline of BlackBerry (and the beloved BBM), there was an obvious need for a smart and flexible cross-platform messaging tool. Enter Kik, a rapidly-evolving messaging service that now has over 100 million users. With Kik you can exchange text messages, videos, images, emoticons, and more, and features like Kik Cards allow for a surprising level of customization.

Price: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone