Kik is the "de-facto" app for grooming children online, alleges a new video report. What's more, the messaging platform (which is primarily home to teens) is apparently allowing child exploitation to continue unchecked. It's allegedly not even taking down the profiles of accused or convicted pedophiles, according to the joint investigation by Point and Forbes. The app currently counts 300 million users among its ranks, and claims it reaches 40 percent of teens in the US.
As part of their report, Jay McGregor and Thomas Fox-Brewster set up a handful of fake Kik accounts. Posing as a 14-year-old girl (whose age was clearly displayed on her profile), they claim they received a barrage of messages from older men. This after joining just a few public groups. One man, who "appeared to be in his forties," sent a message using sexually explicit language. When they used a third-party app to find more followers, the messages spiked to over a hundred. Many of them contained "aggressive sexual content," and even pictures of male genitalia.
The sign-up process on Kik is extremely straightforward. The platform revolves around usernames -- there's no need for a phone number, Facebook link, or any other form of identity verification. The app allegedly has no preventative measures in place to stop younger users from direct messaging other public group members, and vice versa (regardless of age). It also apparently has no barrier that blocks underage members from viewing obscene images and material.
Individual child abuse cases facilitated via Kik have appeared in the media in the past. As recently as June, a convicted child molester described the app as a "predator's paradise" to CBS News' 48 Hours. For its part, the platform claims it is "increasing its investment" in regards to safety. Yet, the findings in the report contradict the safety measures it lists on its website. In its "guide for law enforcement," for example, it claims it deletes accounts associated with individuals convicted of an offence that involved the "inappropriate" use of its app.
Speaking to Engadget, McGregor said the following: "Kik told us that it doesn't proactively remove accounts of people that have been charged with an offence, because that assumes guilt, which is right. But it did admit that it will do a better job of removing profiles of convicted pedophiles." He added: "I can't think of any reason, other than incompetence, for why profiles of convicted offenders hadn't been removed."
However, Kik is vocal about its cooperation with law enforcement. The company holds seminars with the police, provides training videos on how to use its app, and claims it hands over suspect data. According to the report, this suggests law enforcement is using the app as a "honeypot to sting pedophiles." A court document shown in the report also quotes a police officer as stating that the app is "frequently used by individuals who trade child pornography."
In an email, Kik told Engadget it takes safety seriously, but has "work to do on this front...every company does." Its full statement can be read below:
We take online safety very seriously, and we're constantly assessing and improving our trust and safety measures.
There are two ways we do this. One is through technology and constant improvements to the product itself. We encourage users to report content that they believe violates the Kik Terms of Service and Community Standards. Users are also able to Block other users they no longer wish to chat with, or ignore chats from people that they don't know. Actions are taken against users found to have violated Kik's Community Standards and TOS, including removal from the Kik platform where circumstances warrant.
The other is through education and partnerships with organizations that help adults and teens understand the challenges of today's online landscape and how to avoid bad situations. For years, we've had teams dedicated to this, and we will continue to invest in those types of tools, provide resources to parents, and strengthen relationships with law enforcement and safety-focused organizations.
This is a priority for us. We want all users to be safe on Kik and will continue to make Kik a safe, positive and productive place for our users to interact.
Update: This report has been updated to better reflect Point's reporting on how law enforcement uses Kik.