Kik Interactive is a start up founded by students from the University of Waterloo. Kik is one of the first start ups affiliated with Velocity. It is also one of the most successful start-ups from Waterloo. Kik Messenger was released on October 19, 2010 and reached one million user registrations within 15 days of its release.
The company was started with the intention of providing a platform for users of Blackberry, Android and iPhone to chat with each other, which wasn’t possible back in 2009.
They have raised over $120.5 million from Foundation Capital, RRE Ventures, Spark Capital, SV Angel, Tencent (maker of WeChat), Union Square Ventures, and Valiant Capital Partners.
Kik is a mobile app available for download for free on iOS, Android and Windows Phone. The app is used to send and receive messages, photos, videos, sketches, webpages, and other content. Users of the app have to be over the age of 13. If someone is reported to be under the age of 13 and using the app, their account is deleted by Kik Interactive. Kik can be used on any device and can be used for one-on-one or group chats. The app also allows for use of emojis, GIFs and more.
The app also has bots to interact with. Bots are used to “chat with them, do quizzes, get fashion tips, news, advice and more.”
The app requires users to provide their first name, last name, email address, and birth date. Users can then choose a username. The lack of information needed for registration is their most appealing feature: anonymity. To locate a user on the mobile app, their exact username is needed. A user cannot be found based on first name, last name, email address or birth date. Though, some information can be preserved, including but not limited to, IP address and device related information, for up to 90 days.
Photographs and videos sent via the app are deleted shortly after they are sent. Further, the Kik Interactive claims to not have access to content in messages between users. However, with users retaining their anonymous status, the app is widely used for trafficking and other illicit activities. Child exploitation is a major concern brought up repeatedly by law enforcement agents and/or agents. Explicit images and text are distributed using bots on the app as well. This ultimately leads to a lot of concerns and issues with regard to the safety with this app.
In response to the red flags, Kik adapted Microsoft’s PhotoDNA cloud service to detect, delete and report visual messages pertaining to child exploitation, automatically. However, PhotoDNA is criticized for not preventing these issues in real time.
In response to these activities occurring on the messenger platform, Kik introduced SafePhoto, a feature that “detects, reports, and deletes known child exploitation images.”
As of May 2014, a safety feature has been implemented where messages form strangers are blurred. This means users must give permission to view messages sent by other users not on their contacts.
Kik messenger is heavily scrutinized over their security. While Kik does use encryption during transit, the encryption is done with a key that the provider does not have access to, and so users cannot be verified. Additionally, if the encryption keys are stolen, part messages would not be secure.
Finally, check out this video featuring Kik President Josh Jacobs as he discusses whether bots are coming to eat the entire planet, at AAI16.