Encryption Now Available for Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger EncryptionYou may have seen this week that Yahoo, owner of one of the world’s most popular email clients, has been accused of allegedly allowing U.S. intelligence officials to monitor the contents of all user email traffic. This is wrong, and Yahoo is taking considerable heat for it. Even if you’ve done nothing wrong, you shouldn’t be subjected to this type of undisclosed surveillance.

Facebook owns popular messaging app WhatsApp, which has had end-to-end encryption of messages as a standard feature since earlier this year. Clearly Facebook understands that the market wants this type of solution. Encryption is now available for Facebook Messenger, and users (you and your teens) should turn it on.

There’s one catch, though. You can’t have encryption always turned on for Facebook Messenger. You have to turn it on each time you start a conversation.

FB Messenger disappearing messagesTo utilize the feature, when you hit the button to compose a new message, look at the top right corner of the screen. You will see a blue button labeled “SECRET”. Tap on that and you will see the screen at right. The conversation will be fully encrypted once you hit send.

As an added bonus, Facebook has also added the ability to make the message disappear from the recipient’s phone a set number of seconds after it is opened. To set the time, tap on the clock at bottom right (green arrow). There is no word yet as to whether a copy of the message will be retained on Facebook servers or in the bowels of your phone.

Note: If a message that you’ve received is set to disappear, and it is abusive in nature, you can still report it.

We recommend making sure you have the latest update of Facebook Messenger installed, and using encryption on all of your messages starting today. It literally takes one extra tap. You aren’t just protecting your conversations from the government’s prying eyes, but from hackers as well.

 

 

If you are worried that your teen or tween is at risk, we can help. The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). Ongoing monitoring is $15 per month and you can cancel at any time. Click here to sign up today!

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

 

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

Yik Yak Intros Messaging, Could Become a Hookup App

It’s not totally a stretch to say that Yik Yak might become a hookup app.

Yik Yak logoYik Yak was founded as an anonymous, location-based social network that was originally targeted at college students. The app quickly became popular at high schools, so much so that the company took some measures to block its use at some schools. The block didn’t totally work and its popularity at high schools continues.

Last month, Yik Yak took the first steps away from total anonymity, making “handles” an optional feature. Users can select a user name – which can be their real name – and can elect whether to use it or not for each post.

This week, Yik Yak is introducing what it is calling its most requested feature – chat. Starting today, any user who posts using a handle can send a message request to any other user who also uses a handle, in their local area. Users can accept or decline any chat request from any user. Yik Yak wants to increase the bonds between individual users, but only if both users are willing participants.

With handles and private chat, Yik Yak appears to be considering the idea that cyberbullying and other abusive behaviors might see an uptick. Apparently because of this, Yik Yak has also enhanced the user support features in its Safety Center.

Yik Yak messagingWhy do we say that it might morph into a hookup app? Check out the Yik Yak post at right. From what we’ve seen, a lot of posts on Yik Yak are made by lonely folks looking for company, and not all of them are G Rated. Until now, when users wanted to connect in real life, they typically traded Kik or Snapchat handles, which necessitated at least one of them posting it publicly. Awkward.

Now, if another lonely soul sees such a post and sends a private message, it could be off to the races for the two.

We don’t have anything against hookup apps, or hooking up in general for that matter, but we want to alert parents as to what could happen. Millions of teens have downloaded Yik Yak, and use it at least occasionally.

Now would be a great time to review which apps are on your teen’s phone, and talk about how she is using them.

 

 

DID YOU KNOW?: The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). You can cancel at any time. Sign up today!

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

Kik’s Guide for Parents

You probably read last week about the tragic murder of Nicole Lovell, the 13-year old Virginia girl who was found murdered miles from her home. Speculation currently is that Lovell met a college student via the Kik messenger app and the two were engaged in an inappropriate relationship. Authorities appear to believe that she was murdered because she threatened to go public with the relationship.

kik-logoKik has responded quickly to the situation, and last week published an update to Kik’s Guide For Parents.

We’ve written before about some issues we have with Kik, including pornographic spam. To Kik’s credit (a) at the time they had a spokesman get back to us and explain the situation, and (b) the problem appears to be fixed, because we haven’t seen any such spam in over a year. Kudos to them.

kik-parents-guideKik’s Parent’s Guide does a good job for parents explaining how Kik works and how to solve user issues, including how to deal with cyberbullies. If your child is using Kik, you should check it out. What Kik’s Guide doesn’t do is tell parents whether their kids are using Kik, and who they are talking to. For that, parents need to roll their sleeves up.

There’s one entry in the guide that we found particularly interesting: Kik claims that they will help parents delete accounts of minors if the parents so request.

“If you would like to deactivate your teen’s Kik account, but aren’t able to get access to your teen’s email account, you can submit a deactivation request to Kik by emailing support@kik.com with the subject line ‘Parent Inquiry’. A member of the Kik Support Team will send you a deactivation request form, which can be returned to Kik for processing.”

That is a big deal. We’ve written a number of times about how Instagram, for example, will not respond to parents’ requests or delete underage accounts, which we believe is horrible for parents are a true injustice. If Kik has a user friendly way to ensure that parents’ have the control that they should, they could be a model for the rest of the social media community.

We are going to try it out. More to follow.

 

 

NEW: For a limited time the ThirdParent audit is FREE (normally $49). You can cancel at any time. Sign up today!

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

More on Kik’s Adult Spam Problem

After we first became aware of it last year, we wrote a post that touched on the adult spam problem at Kik, titled, “The Kik app is definitely not for kids.” Today we’re revisiting the topic with a little help from Kik.

kik-logoIf you’re not familiar with Kik, it is one of many messaging apps that smartphone users, especially younger folks, tend to use instead of their phone’s SMS feature. Others include WhatsApp, Line, Viber and to a lesser extent picture messaging apps like Snapchat. At 200 million users, Kik is hardly a flash in the pan, and there are actually good reasons to use a messaging app, the principal one being that when you’re on a wifi network, your messages won’t be a tax on your phone’s data plan.

I’ve had the app on my phone for a couple of years, but mainly for the kik-adult-spam-2purpose of researching it. I hadn’t used it in at least a year, and was very surprised to see the message at right last week. In case you can’t read it:

“Hello from the KIK Dating Team. We’ve noticed that you may be interested in our online dating partner www.kiktouch.com who have thousands of beautiful women all ready to chat and flirt using KIK Messenger!! We hope you enjoy our gift and enjoy our network to swap pics and flirty messages! Love KIK Team”

We assume that message isn’t from anyone affiliated with Kik, but rather that it is spam. In the interest of research, I clicked the link above (I don’t recommend that you or your kids click on an unknown link, ever) and was taken to a site that looked like Tinder (the hookup app) and featured pictures of a number of ladies in various stages if undress. I stopped right there, and reached out to Kik for comment. They were nice enough to get back to me and as follows are my questions and their answers:

Q:        Am I correct in assuming that the message I got was spam and in no way affiliated with Kik?

A:         Yes – that’s a spam account. The ignore/report spam features are implemented for this type of use case, and honestly, most other apps similar to Kik don’t have these. We do review all accounts that are reported as spam and remove all accounts determined [to be] spam from Kik.

Q:        If so, what are you folks doing about it?

A:         Kik has safety features in place that protect users’ identity. Unlike many other smartphone instant messengers, which are based on a user’s phone number, Kik has always used usernames to identify users. That means users’ personal information like cell phone numbers and email addresses are never shared on Kik. Kik also has unique features in the app that treat messages from new people in a totally different way. Messages from new people are automatically moved into a separate section, and profile pictures and any picture or content messages will be blurred until the user chooses to look at them. Users have the option to reply, delete, block or report a new person right from the message. “Block” allows users to block any and all contact with another user, without revealing to the other user that they’ve been blocked. This instantly terminates any undesired contact from another user on Kik. For context, on a weekly basis, Kik receives complaints about harassment, spam, or inappropriate contact/content on Kik from 0.0014% of our users.

Q:        I’m not an active Kik user. Do you know how they are targeting user accounts or even figuring out user names?

A:         Spammers can find account names in two ways: public data scraping and reverse engineering.

Q:        Our clients are parents – the bottom line for us is, in the event that a teen is a responsible Kik user, is there something that a parent can do to make sure he/she doesn’t get these types of messages? 

A:         Kik provides information to users and parents through its Help Center. We’ve developed a Parent Guide to provide information about how parents can help their teens have a great and safe experience on Kik. We’re available to parents and users via our Help Center and via our support email.

First of all, kudos to Kik for responding to our questions. Not all the apps and social networks that we review take the time to do so.

Second, we checked out the WhatsApp and Line apps to see whether, as Kik claims, their functionality for reporting and preventing spam and harassment is that much better than the competition. It appears that it is.

The bottom line is that as soon as your teen or tween has unrestricted access to a smartphone, it is impossible to prevent all spam, and potentially abuse, in 100% of cases. Messaging apps are no exception, but for now we agree with Kik’s assertion that this messaging platform is indeed safer for young users than much of their competition.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.