Created: 08/01/2014 10:11 PM
By: Erica Zucco, KOB Eyewitness News 4
Often when internet applications become popular, predators find ways to misuse it for inappropriate purposes.
One of the most popular applications for preteens and teenagers, Kik, is meant to be an innocent way to privately chat with friends or followers from other social websites.
"What's very popular is using other social media like Facebook Instagram and Twitter, a person will say hey, this is my Kik username, someone 'Kik' me," Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office GHOST Unit Detective Kyle Hartsock.
But you can also add people you don't know, and deputies say predators search for and target young users who do it.
"As an investigator whenever I'm on these services posing as an underage minor, it doesn't take much effort at all for these men to send me very graphic and nude photographs without even asking for them," Hartsock said. "I don't even ask for them and they just get sent."
Hartsock says bottom line: know the danger, and protect your kids by being open.
"The best practice is talk to your kids, let them know hey you can trust me - cause they're probably going to try these things no matter what. What they need to know is hey, when something bad happens, someone's trying to threaten you – someone's trying to blackmail you for pictures - you need to come tell me the parent about it so we can handle it," Hartsock said.
Kik has been proactive in trying to prevent misuse of the app. When we told them about the story, they sent us this statement:
"I really appreciate you reaching out about this! We love it when parents are involved in helping their kids make good decisions about the apps they use! Safety is really important to us, and because of that, we've put a lot of focus into providing tools and features for parents and users. For starters, we've developed a Parent Guide to provide information about how parents can help their teens to have a great (and safe) experience on Kik. It's posted, along with lots of other helpful information, on our Help Center at help.kik.com. Parents can visit our Tips for Parents section on our Help Center at: https://kikinteractive.zendesk.com/forums/22210653-Tips-for-Parents-, where they'll find our parent guide as well as other useful information. We're always available to parents and users via our Help Center and via our support email.
Kik has implemented a lot of different features inside our app, to help users enjoy a safe and fun experience on Kik. We've described those features in our Parent Guide, and I've included an overview here as well.
In case you're not familiar with Kik, we're different from other smartphone instant messengers (which are based on a users' phone number), because Kik is based on usernames. By using usernames instead of phone numbers as the unique identifier on Kik, users' personal information like cell phone numbers and email addresses are never, ever shared on Kik.
On May 20th Kik announced a unique new set of features in the app that are industry-leading in terms of safety, that mean messages from new people are treated in a totally different way, giving users even more control over who they talk to.
Messages from new people are automatically moved into a separate section, and profile pictures and any picture or content messages will be blurred until the user chooses to look at them. Users have the option to reply, delete, block or report a new person right from the message."