Time and again Kik Messenger use has been mentioned in connection to recent court cases involving the sharing of files containing child pornography, and it might serve as reminder to parents of the dangers of the internet and different applications that their children might use.
The most recent example is an Aberdeen man who was sentenced to 20 years in prison relating to a federal child pornography charge.
Charles Chambers, 35, received the sentence as a result of activity on his Kik Messenger account. Chambers accessed hundreds of files containing child pornography on his account, according to a news release about his sentencing in federal court.
More:Aberdeen man receives 20 years on federal child pornography possession charge
The messaging app has been plagued for years by the dangers it poses to children. Recently, two Sioux Falls police officers, Luke Schauer and Alan Jock, were arrested on child pornography charges. Schauer faces a federal charge, while Jock’s are at the state level.
Both cases involved Kik Messenger. Jock is accused of possessing child pornography on his account and distributing it to other Kik Messenger accounts, while Schauer is accused of sending messages over the app to an FBI agent posing as a 12-year-old girl.
More:What we know about the 2 Sioux Falls police officers arrested on child porn charges
But, the problem isn’t only on Kik Messenger, said Detective Mike Bunke of the Aberdeen Police Department, who emphasized that most apps on the Internet can be used for illegal activity. But predators will often use Kik Messenger or other apps like Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram because that’s where they can find people to prey on. Chambers’ case was mostly handled by the FBI with help from the Aberdeen Police Department.
On Kik Messenger, users can register with just an email address. It allows for more anonymity than other applications like WhatsApp or Snapchat where users register with their phone number. That doesn’t mean activity on the application can’t be tracked.
People may also register with fake email addresses or use VPNs to make activity more difficult to track, but the activity can still be traced, and Bunke said Kik Messenger has been easy to work with and cooperative over the years for investigations.
Law enforcement officials need permission through a search warrant to search someone’s phone or track their activity through the app, but many apps including Kik Messenger archive activity for a period of time. That varies between apps, but it gives law enforcement a way to search someone’s activity if they are not cooperating in an investigation, said Bunke.
In some cases, activity can also be tracked if the victim in a case consents to law enforcement officials searching their phone.
Kik Messenger does not have end-to-end encryption. That’s where data is encrypted before it is sent from one device to another. Bunke said systems with end-to-end encryption make tracking activity more difficult.
How can parents protect their children?
As a detective, Bunke sometimes has days where he wants his own children off the internet completely. But of course, that’s not realistic, he said.
Bunke recommends that parents have conversations with their children and educate them on the dangers of the internet. For example, they should never talk with someone they don’t know or send explicit photographs. It’s especially important to emphasize the consequences that their actions might have, said Bunke. Even if children aren’t communicating with adults online, kids can blackmail each other or forward photographs to other people at the school.
It’s an especially difficult road to navigate since much of the technology is new. But communication is key, said Bunke.
It’s useful for parents to monitor their children’s activity on the internet, said Bunke, who added that he uses Instagram with his children to monitor their activity and create an open discussion about the app. Another way that parents can monitor their children’s activity is through parental control apps.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also has an online safety education program called NetSmartz, which can be useful for children of different ages. It covers safety for different areas of the internet, such as social media and gaming.