Kik Messenger: The Challenge in Balancing Privacy & Anonimity
26th of June, 2016
Should Kik be kicked to the curb?
The other day I was playing around with my young cousin’s phone and I found myself asking her countless times what certain apps were. I never thought of myself as old (I’m in my early twenties) and yet I still can’t keep up with all these emerging apps. One app that I was just introduced to and that seems to be on the rise is Kik, although according to my cousin, “that’s like so old now, everyone has it.” Kik is an app that doesn’t sound threatening but is actually a major concern for the police right now.
I didn’t know what Kik was and even after searching them and reading their about page, I found myself still wondering why children were fascinated by this app, and what exactly its main purpose was. Kik’s website doesn’t tell concerned parents or app users what it does; instead, it lists its beliefs and their story behind the app. While this is inspiring, it gives us nothing to base an approval on. So, instead I took to YouTube where I found videos of people using the app and exploring the features that come with it. Then I went a step further and I downloaded the app to get a first hand experience with it. I’ll admit now that as soon as I was finished exploring its features and playing around with it, I immediately deleted it as the app made me feel extremely uncomfortable.
What is Kik?
Kik is similar to a chatroom where anonymity is key. You don’t sign in using your phone number; instead, the name that is shown is a chosen display name. To enter Kik you must put in your date of birth to ensure you are older than 13 ( an easy enough task to get around). The app allows you to do a sweep through your contacts and points out those that are already connected to Kik so you can keep in touch with your contact list. This app prides itself on the ability to chat, connect, and send files without giving away your mobile number or revealing too much personal information.
But, is this a good thing? Of course getting to know different people has its benefits, and making new friends is never a bad thing; however, that comes with responsibilities. Not knowing the person you’re talking to can actually be quite dangerous, especially if you are under the intended age for this app. Even if you are old enough, that doesn’t always mean you know what is best in a situation where anonymity can be misleading.
An app that started off innocently enough is now a huge concern for parents and police, and in some cases is the direct link in ongoing police investigations. A couple of weeks ago a man was convicted for distributing child pornography and internet luring––the mode of these atrocious acts was none other than Kik. Within App stores the app is rated nine years and older, yet the app makes it clear that it is targeted to children 13 years and older. Police are concerned about this app, and the many like it, saying it gives direct access to predators and allows for many potential dangers to arise especially because it is popular with younger teens.
Kik has been involved in countless criminal investigations in both Canada and the United States. Law enforcements and educators are warning parents about the potential dangers. For instance, in the USA the Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking at the role Kik may have played with the kidnapping and killing of 13 year old Nicole Lovell from Virginia. It is said that the 18 year old who has been charged with her kidnapping and murder first met Lovell on Kik.
Detective-Sergeant Paul Krawczyk of the Toronto Police Service’s child exploitation unit says, “we have lots of investigations involving Kik.” He has even worked with children as young as eight years old. Krawczyk makes it clear that parents should know be aware of the apps their children are using–– not just know their names, but also how they work. Watch the CBC video below on Kik.
Take a breather and relax
Now, this article isn’t to scare you. It is simply to bring this app, and the many like it, to your attention. Enjoying private communication can sometimes be hindered by the coupling of privacy and anonymity. While it can be useful for reasons like fighting censorship, there is usually a problem with grouping privacy and anonymity as it often invites illicit users who are looking to conceal their identities. Splitting the pair and choosing to forgo the route of anonymity all together can be an effective way of deterring unlawful use and developing a more private and secure communication tool. Take for example Topsecret, which works to avoid illicit use while allowing the communicating parties to have a secure and private line. This way, you can ensure that your messages are kept private. Further, parties cannot communicate with each other unless they have agreed to do so, encouraging consensual, private conversations. There are many products out there that allow for privacy without inviting illicit users in––anonymity does not have to mean a violation of privacy.
There are ways to understand what apps your child is downloading without spying on them. Be open with your child and let them know that if they are using an app they feel uncomfortable or “weird” about, they should delete it right away. There are also parental blocks that can be added to your child’s phone or smart device. If you don’t understand an app, their private policy, or have any type of concern, never hesitate to ask the Privacy Shell team a question!
About Victoria Crescenzi
Victoria is studying English Literature and Journalism at Ryerson University. She believes that all hard work eventually pays off, and that is why she is willing to put in countless hours to defend our privacy.