The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

April 4, 2013

App-rehension: Two apps require some vigilance from parents

JOPLIN, Mo. — The effort to stay involved in children's Web usage gets tougher and tougher, thanks to the Internet and a host of apps. Two apps in particular -- Kik and Snapchat -- have drawn warning flags from parents because of their ease of use and anonymity. The apps can be used safely, and both provide guidance to parents. But monitoring the apps can be a challenge for parents who may be worried about sexting or conversations with anonymous users.

Kik Messenger

Similar to other cross-platform messaging programs, Kik gives users of all smartphones and tablet devices the ability to chat in real time.

What makes Kik powerful is a real-time interface and fast service that allows users to see when another user is responding. The app also offers easy ways to send pictures or sketches without using MMS systems. And on Droid and iOS formats, the app integrates with other popular apps.

The big catch for parents, however: A Kik user's ID is their user name -- not their phone number, not their Facebook ID, not their email address. It also effectively allows unlimited text messaging for free.

According to a press release from developers, obtaining a Kik user name gives users keep complete control of their identity and privacy, which has led to ease of use on Instagram, SocialCam, Viddy and other apps.

A quick scan of reviews on the app in Apple Store reveal that people post ads similar to personals. Users on Instagram will also post their Kik screen names.

And Kik is closely related to Instagram, said Michael Sheehan, a blogger at High TechDad.com.

"What is going on here is that these people are using Kik Messenger to have online chats," Sheehan wrote. "Comments on Instagram (are) public, the chats on Kik are not."

Kik doesn't have much to offer parents who want to monitor their child's messages. A new feature known as Kik Cards allows pictures and videos to be sent easily -- the new update led developers to label their app as appropriate for people 17 and older.

The app has no parental controls. According to an FAQ document on the company's website, parents are recommended to download a nanny or parental control app that monitors activity. The app also has a block feature that lets users automatically deny all contact from someone questionable.

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