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.
If 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 purpose 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.
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