Kik Messaging App: A Guide for Parents

PHOTO: Kik, a popular messaging app, is seen in this photo.PlayKik
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The team behind Kik, a popular messaging app among teens, said it is cooperating with the FBI in their investigation into the disappearance and murder of Nicole Lovell.

Nicole was from Blacksburg, Virginia -- the city where Virginia Tech is located -- and went missing Jan. 27, the Blacksburg Police Department said. Her body was found on Saturday in Surry County, North Carolina, which is near the Virginia border, police said. Two Virginia Tech students were arrested this weekend in connection with Nicole's death.

While Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are household names, parents may not know about the Kik messaging app -- or the surprising simplicity of the sign-up process that only requires a user name, email, password and birthday. With more than 240 million users worldwide, according to Kik, the app is a hub of conversation where friends in real life -- and virtual ones -- can exchange texts, photos, sketches and videos.

Reaching Any User

The ease of finding usernames though is easy, allowing virtual strangers to message almost anyone on the service. A search for "Kik user" yields various sites listing Kik usernames for people on the app, including "female user list" and a site dedicated to "Kik sexting."

“By using usernames instead of phone numbers as the unique identifier on Kik, users' personal information like cell phone numbers and email addresses are never shared by Kik,” the company explained in its guide for law enforcement.

Working With Law Enforcement

Founded in 2009 by a group of University of Waterloo students, the company makes it clear on its website it regularly works with law enforcement to educate them about the service as well as offer them guidance on how to submit emergency requests for basic subscription information in the event they believe someone is facing an imminent threat.

Requests to preserve data can also be made by law enforcement, who are advised to attach a subpoena, warrant or court order in order to compel Kik to consider preserving and releasing private information.

Last year, Kik began using Microsoft’s PhotoDNA technology, which is designed to detect exploitative photos. The company is also a member of the Virtual Global Task Force organization, which has the mission of fighting sexual abuse of minors online.

Safeguards

When Kik users register, they're asked to enter their birthday. However, it's possible that precocious pre-teens will outsmart the first checkpoint by entering a fake date of birth.

For users already on Kik, a "new people" feature will allow them to keep messages from new people in a separate section labeled "new chats." This section will blur user photos and messages they have sent, giving the recipient the choice of whether or not they want to see the content of the unsolicited message. They'll have the option to start a chat, delete the chat, block the user or report it as spam.

In the case of Nicole Lovell, the company told ABC News that it "cooperated with the FBI for their investigation." The company added: "Kik cooperates with law enforcement to combat child predators anywhere in the world, either upon provision of a court order, or in emergency situations such as this one."