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ISD 192 bans ‘Kik’ app from district-owned iPads

Just two weeks into the new school year, a messaging app called Kik has been banned by Farmington School District 192.

The announcement was made Friday afternoon, giving students the weekend to remove the app from their school district-owned iPads.

Farmington’s head of instructional technology, Dan Pickens, cut Kik from the list of acceptable apps after learning that there have been instances of predators posing as kids while using Kik. He learned about Kik during a recent conversation with a Dakota County sheriff’s deputy who is investigating an incident involving a child predator who found a victim by using the app.

“I figured we have to get this off of our iPads because (the sheriff’s deputy) said it’s a bad, bad app. It’s supposed to be kid-friendly, but it’s not,” Pickens said.

Kik is marketed as a kid-friendly texting and messaging app, Pickens said. However, its administrators are based out of Ontario, Canada. As such, the creators are not held to the same requirements as companies in the United States. And in Kik’s case, that means the company is not required to verify birthdates or identities of its users.

Instead, Kik users create a username. Users are not asked to provide basic, verifiable information, and that does not sit well with Pickens.

“You can set up an account as anybody. You can say whatever you want,” Pickens said. “If you set up an account on Facebook, it verifies your age and email and other information. Here, you can be whoever you want to be, and that can be dangerous.”

For instance, Kik’s creators encourage users to share not only their own contact information, but, in one of Kik’s blogs, also the contact information of their friends.

“Sharing contact info on Kik has never been easier! ContactKicker for Android lets you send contact information quickly and easily!” a Kik blog from Sept. 14, 2012 reads.

Pickens said Kik’s administrators are not obliged to work with law enforcement when problems arise. That has caused problems for law enforcement when it comes to investigating child predators who are finding their victims online.

“When I found out they’re not working with law enforcement when something happens, that was it. I don’t like that at all,” he said.

Pickens contacted principals at all of Farmington’s schools about the app’s removal on Friday. He left it up to principals to share with teachers and students. Emails were also being sent to parents.

Kik is only the second app to be banned by Farmington schools since iPads were issued to all of ISD 192’s students last year. The first app, SnapChat, was banned because it was causing disruptions in classrooms and offered no educational value. Kik was banned because of the potential safety risk it poses for students.

Pickens does not anticipate restricting the use of many apps. Part of the education in using the iPads is teaching students to use their electronic devices responsibly.

“When we block an app, it’s because we have good reason to,” he said.

If students have Kik on their school-issued iPads, they must remove the app by Monday, or their iPads will be temporarily disabled until the app is gone. And school officials are serious about that, too – when SnapChat was banned, about 1,000 students were identified to have the app on their iPads. About 200 of them had their iPads disabled because they did not remove the app by the deadline.

Once the apps are removed, Pickens said, all function is restored to the iPads.

While the ban affects the school-owned iPads, it’s up to parents to decide whether or not to allow Kik or SnapChat on their student’s own devices or smartphones.  

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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