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Within minutes of downloading Kik, a popular messaging app, year-old Alicia started getting random texts from strangers wanting to know about her sexual fantasies. CBC News created her online persona and profile picture to see what kind of unsolicited messages children are receiving when they use Kik, a free mobile service for sharing texts, images and videos anonymously. While there are safety concerns with other apps, police and users say Kik is particularly popular with younger teens and children whose parents may not be as familiar with it as they are with social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.
Kik Interactive Inc, the company that created it seven years ago in Waterloo, Ont. Paul Krawczyk of the Toronto Police Service's child exploitation unit. Unlike many other messaging apps, Kik offers free, unlimited texting, along with games featuring animated characters and juvenile emojis which appeal to kids. Kik also allows users to send messages directly to other users, without first approving them on a friend or contact list.
Police say there's a lack of parental checks and controls with Kik, and some other apps, which is one of the reasons predators are drawn to them. Just last week, a man in Richmond, B. Police say Stephen Reha convinced at least four girls between the ages of 13 to 16 whom he met on Kik to send him explicit photos of themselves. He then distributed the photos to other people who had the app. It got so bad that Desiree and her mother went to police to report one particularly aggressive user that Desiree was unable to block.
Recently, Kik has been cited in numerous criminal investigations throughout North America, with law enforcement officials and educators warning of its potential dangers. In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking at what role Kik may have played in the recent kidnapping and slaying of a year-old girl from Virginia. An year-old man who allegedly targeted Nicole Lovell on Kik has been charged, along with a female accomplice, in the teen's killing. The company declined CBC's request for an interview, referring instead to the "Guide for Parents" on its website.
The guide explains things like how the app works and what parents can do if their child has sent or received inappropriate messages. It advises parents who want to monitor their child's to "ask your teen not to delete chats, and to provide you with access to their device.
Krawczyk said the policy does little to prevent even younger users from creating s, either on their own or with the help of older siblings and friends. He was troubled but by no means shocked by some of the messages CBC showed him from Alicia's . If you really developed a relationship Krawczyk said Kik has become more receptive to requests for information in police investigations, despite earlier difficulties when Kik launched seven years ago.
Still, Kik's legal guide makes clear that the company does not "have access to the text of Kik conversations" and reserves the right "pursuant to applicable law to refuse to provide information. Krawczyk feels parents need to be more aware of what apps their children are using and how they work. He recalled a recent case involving an eight-year-old girl who sent "inappropriate pictures" to a stranger. When he asked the girl's parents for her password, Krawczyk said they had to ask their daughter to tell them what it was.
He encourages parents to let children know they should tell someone if they receive random messages from people they don't know. Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted. By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments.
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