Kik makes it easier than ever before to keep in touch with your friends and family. Unlike other apps that require you to disclose your phone number, Kik allows you to sign up and send messages with just your email address, which helps maintain your privacy.
Whether you’re looking to protect your privacy or you’re just looking for a new way to keep in touch, there’s a lot to know about this popular messaging app. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know.
What is Kik?
Kik Messenger is a free instant messaging and social networking app, now owned by the California based MediaLab, that uses your smartphone’s data plan or Wi-Fi connection to send messages to other Kik users, bypassing SMS (short message service). It’s available on iOS, Android, and Amazon for Kindle Fire.
While Kik is not unique in how it transmits communications, it differentiates itself with a distinctive but controversial effort to target a specific demographic: Kik appeals to the teenage crowd because of its emphasis on privacy and anonymity. As of 2016, Kik Messenger had some 300 million registered users and was used by an estimated 40% of teenagers in the U.S. It hasn’t disclosed any user figures since 2016.
The trick is that you do not have to register your phone number with Kik — it needs only your name and email — which lets you maintain a super-private presence on the platform that’s identifiable only by your username, the name you register with. With only a username as an ID, Kik lets you exchange messages, photos, videos, sketches, stickers, mobile webpages, emoji, and other content with others on the platform. This greatly appeals to teen users (the official minimum age is 13 years old) as well as others with privacy concerns.
With a username instead of a phone number, you don’t automatically share personal information with others — your chat companions on Kik can only see your display name, username, and profile picture. They can’t see your email address, phone number, or birthday, though within a Kik group, everyone can see your username. An optional feature checks for Kik accounts that match email addresses or phone numbers on your smartphone to help you find your contacts.
The easy-to-use yet full-featured app has the familiar look and feel of an SMS text messenger but with a number of appealing perks. Like most messaging apps, Kik sends notifications to let you know when you have sent your message and when it was received. You can personalize audio notifications with different tones and receive them when someone messages you, and you can also apply themes to your chats. A live typing feature indicates in real time when your contact is replying to your text. This way, you know at least that there’s a message in progress. You can also see when a message you’ve sent has been read.
Kik really stands out for its social media integration. You can use Kik to invite friends or family via SMS, email, or through Facebook and Twitter. If friends whose contact information you have saved on your phone sign up via their phone number or email, Kik detects that you are connected and sends notifications to link up on the service. You can also join public groups organized according to interest. In addition, Kik’s “Meet New People” feature throws you into new chats with other Kik users based on your interests.
Recently added features include the option to add bots to your private and group chats, so you can play quizzes and games with the bot and your friends.
Kik users each have a unique QR-like code they can access from their settings that allows them to find or invite new members to the service. To add a user from a Kik code, tap the Settings icon at the top right, then tap Your Kik Code. You must allow Kik to access your camera before you can scan a second Kik code. When someone scans your code, a chat opens, and they can immediately send you a message. Also, you can find Kik codes online in social media or at cafes and other venues.
You can initiate a group chat by tapping the plus icon in the bottom left, tapping Start a Group, and then adding users to your group. You can join a group chat — either public or private — with up to 49 other participants. Private groups are not searchable via the app and people can join by scanning the group Kik code or if they’re added to the group by one of their own contacts. Public groups are searchable and identified by a hashtag. You also have the option to directly chat with a group member, and you control whether or not you’re available for direct messages. Disabling the direct message feature means others in the group cannot message you.
A previously available video chat toggle, as well as a third-party bots platform, was removed in 2019 with Kik’s acquisition by MediaLab.
Young chat challenges
Kik’s teenage fan base has generated quite a bit of heat concerning the amount of privacy and anonymity the app affords as well as fears and some sad real-world examples of predatory criminal behavior by adults and other abusive behavior. In 2017, a Forbes and Point report revealed a large number of crimes against youths linked to the service. Kik responded to such concerns by publishing expansive guidelines for parents whose kids may be on the platform.
Kik recommends safety measures and general tips for keeping kids safe. Still, parents cannot automatically view their kid’s Kik chats remotely — they must have the password for access. They also have to view chats on the same device as there’s no remote surveillance feature. There is also no technical way to enforce the 13-or-over rule for the platform. Kik also can’t guarantee that a young person will not register on the service with a false birth date.
Kik has a policy of disclosure, making a point to reach out to law enforcement before anything comes up on its own. Kik complies with any advances by law enforcement as well. The app’s Trust and Safety team is on call 24/7 for emergency disclosure requests.
Generally, Kik can’t read your messages, but it can view images and videos, retaining them until they are sent. If someone makes a lawful request for data, they can reach back 90 days to comply. Kik takes an active stance with law enforcement, posting police request forms in downloadable PDF format on its website and sponsoring webinars to educate law enforcement about how the app works. Kik even participated in the 2018 Crimes Against Children Conference.
To help prevent delays and get you the data you need, the company recommends that you keep the exact username you’re watching handy. If you need to request data, make sure you’re going through the proper channels to speed up the process.
Is Kik for your family?
Kik isn’t for everyone. The primary audience for this app is preteens and teenagers. Partially for that reason, Kik has helped with initiatives that include law enforcement, parents, and consumers, in an effort to protect the safety of its young clientele. However, even with the company’s work, parents must monitor any online activity to keep minors safe from child predators, hackers, and anyone who seeks to exploit or take advantage of kids.
If you do allow your child to download Kik, we recommend having an ongoing conversation with them about online safety. Whenever a person is online, there’s a risk of inappropriate or unwelcome content, even with all of Kik’s efforts to protect young patrons. Starting that conversation with your kids can help teach them techniques to stay safe online. Be sure to keep an eye on their other internet activity as well. The internet can be a fun place for users if it’s used safely and responsibly.