Kik messenger has become the go-to app for child predators, according to an investigative report. KiK is an instant messaging app that offers free, fast, and potentially anonymous usage which, according to an independent investigation carried out by Point and Forbes, is the "the defacto app for grooming children online."
The app has 300 million users around the world and is popular with teenagers and children.
Developed by Canadian tech firm Kik Interactive in 2009, the messenger has reached 40% of teenagers in the US with 57% of the users in the 13-24 age bracket, according to the report. Kik is now valued at over $1bn (£770m). The investigation found that Kik users also have third party apps that help identify and filter certain profiles and hence, predators seem to move quickly towards profiles of underage users.
Kik has been the target of law enforcement for a while now and they have pointed out the app in many of their cases involving underage targets. Last year, the New York Times also made a news story about how the app was being frequented by predators and unchecked sexual content was flourishing.
Users of Kik messenger do not have to register their mobile numbers with the service, so it gives them a level of privacy that many other messaging services like WhatsApp do not offer. It is, however, not the only anonymous messaging service that is currently available with mobile carriers, according to the report.
Groups, where people can trade and update messages, images and videos, are also a big part of Kik. Sex offenders who get caught are often seen being active members of such groups that are devoted to spreading "child abuse material" notes the report.
The investigation that was carried out included opening a number of Kik accounts as 13 and 14-year-old girls and it was reported that they received several aggressive, suggestive, sexually charged messages including photographs of male genitals, within an hour of usage.
Apart from directly searching in-app, users can also make use of third party apps like KFF Username Finder for Kik which lets users advertise post open profiles that can be easily found by others. Using this app led to the fake profiles created by the investigators get hundreds of messages and inappropriate images almost immediately.
"They (Kik) could change things, absolutely. They could build in much more responsive mechanisms in terms of privacy and safety, they could provide warnings," said Sonia Livingstone OBE, professor of social psychology at London School of Economics on the way the app is managed.
A company spokesperson has said that there are several automated filters and explicit content detection measures in place, and Kik is "trying to develop better tools for protecting the users of our site all the time."