Over the past few years, I have written about security and safety for the family, especially when it comes to protecting your kids from online predators and social bullies. My wife and I really try to practice what we preach. But as social networks and sharing services evolve, sometimes it is hard to keep up with the latest and greatest cool thing, or social threat.
For example, when our oldest daughter got on Facebook, we knew that it was too early to let her just go at it on her own. So we allowed her to use it with some conditions specifically:
- we have full access to her phone,
- we control her Facebook login and,
- if she has any questions, that she come to us to ask.
We work with her regularly, making sure that she understands why she can or cannot respond to posts/messages and what photos are appropriate to upload and which are not. Kids simply do not know what dangers are out there and what kind of creepy people lurk on these new social hangouts.
Sometimes we can’t keep up with everything. And in fact, this past weekend, my middle daughter and some of her friends encountered one of those situations that my wife and I have been fearing.
Use this article as a word of warning. I’m going to talk about a specific example. But this type of thing could happen without these particular specifics. It could be a different social network. And it could be YOUR kids.
Here’s what happened. In this case, there were two social networks/messaging services involved: the famous Instagram and Kik Messenger. You may have heard of Kik actually. It received a lot of press a few years ago because RIM (Blackberry) banned them from their app store. There are a few sides to that story, some people said that RIM was worried about competition to their own BBM (Blackberry Messenger). While other people say it had to do with privacy concerns around how Kik accesses one’s address book and then culls through to see if there are other Kik members in there. I don’t have the details and I personally haven’t installed the application because I value my contacts.
There are all sorts of users on Instagram and many are producing lots of amazing photos. My middle daughter was having a great time posting pictures of our dog and things around the house. Occasionally she posted pictures of herself. She had school friends who were also doing it and they were sharing photos back and forth. Also, they started getting some new followers as part of some small contests or similar interests. It seemed pretty safe and innocent. But as I recently outlined in an article about safely gaming online, sometimes things are not as innocent as they seem. As I mentioned, that butterfly and rainbow unicorn could be a sexual deviant or pervert.
Anyway, back to why Instagram and Kik are related. If you look at some of the comments on some pictures in Instagram, you will see some that say “Kik me at” or “my Kik name is”. So, what is going on here is that these people are using Kik Messenger to have online chats. Comments on Instagram are public, the chats on Kik are not. This is where the danger lies. Actually there are a few places that parents should be concerned.
Here is what happened…someone on Instagram contacted one of my daughter’s friends to connect on Kik. And once they were over on Kik messenger and chatting, this “stranger” asked to see this child’s privates. (Disclaimer: I don’t have all of the exact details, but what I have accounted for in this article is my understanding of the situation. I also performed my own rudimentary investigation.)
Just pause and think about that for a minute. From innocently posting photos to being solicited by a pedophile.
When I learned about this, the first thing that I did was look through Kik. Most of the connections that my daughter had were her local friends. A couple were friends she had made via Instagram. I made her end her conversations with kids we didn’t know. Then we had her delete pictures of herself on Instagram and clean out who is following her. That night, I spent some more time exploring her Kik app. I saw a message from one of her friends saying something like “don’t search for the user ‘Instagram’ on Kik…it’s gross”. Of course, I had to check it out to understand. When I searched for “Instagram” on Kik, it showed a user called “So Horney” or “Very Horney” or something like that, and the user’s picture was that of a man’s genitals. Having seen that and having reviewed the lack of privacy and having read more about Kik, I talked to my daughter about deleting the app immediately. A few days later, when I checked my daughter’s phone, the Kik app was gone (my daughter later told me that she deleted it herself). You can see this is an odd and potentially dangerous relationship between Kik and Instagram and how someone make it instantly perverted.
That is shocking. I was scared. I was scared for my kids. And I was scared for other families who don’t take an active role in protecting their children from the dangers online.
Please, if you are parents, take an active role in the online activities of your children. Show them that you care for them and love them by getting involved.
Here are some online safety tips that parents should think about:
- Privacy on Instagram – while Instagram has some privacy settings, there aren’t that many. You can block users and you can make your pictures/account private. They don’t seem to enforce a 13 and over age group when signing up. So, be sure that you set your child’s profile to “private” meaning that only people who are allowed can see photos that are posted.
- Only allow followers that you know – this is true with any social media service. I have made a rule with my kids that they can only allow people that they know to follow them on Instagram. It’s a bit more difficult if the profile is public.
- Do NOT allow Kik – It is private, it is un-regulated, it does not have privacy controls or parental controls. From what I can tell on it, having played with it on my kid’s iPhone (prior to me deleting it), is that it merely accesses your contacts and allows you to know who of your contacts are using it as well. You can block users but there is no auditing of accounts nor linking to other social network profiles (which might actually be a better way to ensure the authenticity of a user).
- Censor the photos – I recommend not letting your child post pictures of themselves. Try to restricts posts to pets or objects or non-identifiable items. When photos of kids are posted, you are potentially exposing kids to strangers peeping into their lives.
- Turn off Location/Geo-tagging of photos – it’s better to be safe than sorry. Most smartphones now tag each photo with geo-location data. While cool to see where photos are taken, many times the uploaded photos still contain that geo-specific information. Turn that feature off!
Remember, the best thing is to have an open relationship with your children when it comes to social networking. Don’t impose too many restrictions but also don’t completely let them do whatever they want. Have on-going discussions. Explain why you are doing what you do. Show them how scary it can be. While your kids may complain, deep down inside, they know that you are doing it out of love.
HTD says: Social media can be fun, but if you don’t know how you can protect your children, it can be very dangerous.