Popular Kik app offers teenagers, predators anonymity

Courtesy of AP Graphics

AUSTIN (KXAN) — When your child opens up a social media app on their smartphones, who are they really chatting with? Concerns over the chatting app ‘Kik’ surfaced after a Cedar Park man was arrested Wednesday, accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl he met and chatted with on the app.

Kik was founded in 2009 at the University of Waterloo near Toronto, Canada. According to the app’s website, 300 million people have signed up for Kik in 230 countries worldwide. It’s a free app for sharing texts, pictures and videos anonymously, creating the perfect setup for offenders to find their victims.

“I think primarily it’s popular for predators because Kik is known as an app that teens and pre-teenagers use. I’ve heard the term, ‘Why would you use Kik because it’s a kids app?’” said Detective John Hawkins with the Cedar Park Police Department. “The thing about the internet is: you can be anything you want to be on the internet.”

From an educational perspective, social media and technology have become important aspects of the classroom. Teachers say it can be used for good.

“Technology really amplifies the ability for our students to do things like create,” said Erin Bown-Anderson, AISD’s Director of Technology Integration.

But AISD says teaching technology also means teaching safety. The technology department trains teachers on cyber safety, so they can turn around and show students what to look out for. “You wouldn’t, in life, drop your driver’s license or your credit card and not worry about. You would be nervous about it, and so [it’s about] making the connection to real-life situations to the same way we would work online,” Brown-Anderson said.

Police say protecting kids starts with awareness. Parents who monitor networks like Facebook and Instagram usually skip right over apps like Kik altogether. Officials urge you to do your homework and educate yourself. Talk with your kids about having strong privacy settings, and turn off location services.

In a time when everyone is chatting online, taking precautions can go a long way.

“Put the phone in your hands and touch the app because there are also apps out there that you are going to look at it and say oh it’s Facebook. But if you don’t push on it, you don’t know that it’s Facebook and believe it or not, they’re creating those apps all the time so that people can hide what they are doing on their telephones,” said Detective Hawkins.

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