Keeping children safe is the number one priority for parents and grandparents alike. It's more difficult than ever with so many online threats to worry about.
Let's face it, the internet is a great resource for kids and their education that many of us didn't have growing up. Unfortunately, predators are seemingly lurking around every corner of the web. One messaging service in particular reportedly has a child abuse problem.
How predators are targeting kids online
We're talking about Kik Messenger. It's a free instant messaging app that is mostly used by teenagers. The service has roughly 15 million monthly active users, of which, nearly 60 percent are in the 13-to-24 age range.
Police in North Carolina recently discovered that a registered sex offender was a regular user of Kik. A police officer wrote in a search warrant, "Kik Messenger is frequently used by individuals who trade child pornography because it is free, simple to set up, easily accessible, potentially anonymous and allows users to share digital data privately."
That led to "Forbes" and Point Report to a joint investigation of child predator activity on the messaging app. What they discovered was frightening.
It turns out that Kik is being used by predators to target and groom under age kids. They are also using the service to share explicit, underage content. There are even dedicated groups that can be searched for illegal material.
In response to the investigation, a Kik spokesperson told "Forbes" that there are measures in place to prevent these issues, such as minimum age limits, black lists on topics that are not appropriate, and automatic explicit content detection. They added, "We're trying to develop better tools for protecting the users of our site all the time and encourage suggestions to improve from anywhere.
"Unfortunately, once control leaves our site and the conversion falls to Kik, we rely on Kik's own system of protection and moderation to look after our users from that point forward. There are several sites performing similar services on the web that run themselves as a wild west of sorts. Something we try very hard to distance ourselves from."
However, "Forbes" found during its investigation that Kik hasn't been removing profiles of users accused or convicted of child exploitation crimes. It was able to access 18 profiles of Kik users who were named in court documents accused of sending or receiving material related to child abuse.
No matter how difficult websites try to make it for criminals to use their services, they will always find new ways to get around the rules. Your best bet in keeping children safe is to take matters into your own hands.
How to keep kids safe online
Whenever a child's safety is involved, you should take precautions. Here are some ideas on how to keep kids safe in the digital world:
- Have open dialogue - You need to talk to your kids about online safety. Let them know the risks that come with being online and that they can speak with you anytime a problem arises.
- Set parental controls - Take advantage of the parental control settings on your child's gadgets. These will help keep them from accessing inappropriate online content.
- Install security software - You can prevent some online risks with security software. It can even help you block certain apps from being installed on your child's gadgets.