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He was a member of more than Kik groups with names like "kidsnbabies," all dedicated to trading child abuse material, including images and videos of minors aged between three and 12 "engaged in sexual acts with adults," according to a search warrant obtained by Forbes. In total, Keeler, who is awaiting sentencing after filing a currently-sealed plea agreement, shared and received such content with as many as different individuals over less than a year, the government claimed.
This astonishing level of illegal content might appear unique, but in recent years this kind of activity has become rampant across Kik. A t Forbes and Point Report investigation has uncovered evidence of a vast of child exploitation cases involving the use of Kik, where some of the most appalling material is being shared and young girls and boys are being targeted for grooming.
Posing as year-old girls, we also discovered just how quickly predators were on the prowl and how third-party apps for sharing profiles appeared to be facilitating access to minors. And we found that Kik hasn't even been deleting the profiles of individuals charged and convicted of child abuse offenses. Though many reports have recounted individual exploitation crimes facilitated over Kik, many parents may not have heard of Kik.
But their kids probably have. Despite the financial success of the company, and Kik's own efforts to curb the problem, this investigation has proven worrying problems remain. In response to our findings, child safety experts have called on the company to take action. They could build in much more responsive mechanisms in terms of privacy and safety, they could provide warnings," said Sonia Livingstone OBE, professor of social psychology in the Department of Media and Communications at London School of Economics.
She recommended more frequent warnings for children about people on the platform. That case was one of many horrific crimes partly facilitated through Kik, according to court filings reviewed by Forbes. Take the case of William Steinhaus, who pled guilty in late to taking sexually explicit pictures of himself with a two-year-old who was occasionally in his custody. He used Kik on an iPhone to distribute those photos to approximately 25 other Kik users, some of whom he talked with about what to do to the infant. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison earlier this year.
Discussion and depiction of incest and rape feature prominently in child abuse cases reviewed by Forbes. In one exchange between two suspects, as described in a court document filed by the government, they discussed adopting a baby and the possibility of having sex with the infant.
One of the parties later offered a non-nude picture of his own son to an undercover officer, though claimed he hadn't "tried anything" with the boy, according to police. In October last year, a Kik profile with the name bossiercopssuck told an undercover agent he had nude images of his infant daughter taken while changing her diaper, a search warrant revealed. He then sent sexually explicit images of an unnamed child, the document read. The defendant in that case, Michael Stanley Clark of Louisiana, is facing charges of production and dissemination of child pornography.
What makes Kik so popular amongst those sharing illegal content is spelled out by officers in court documents. In one search warrant, the officer writes: "Kik Messenger is frequently used by individuals who trade child pornography because it is free, simple to set up, easily accessible, potentially anonymous and allows users to share digital data privately. Zach Myers, assistant U. To see how bad the problem was on Kik, we set up a handful of profiles, posing as and year-old girls. With one, we ed around 10 public groups, which allow every user to see who's participating and direct message one another.
They're what make Kik that much more open than other social platforms. The groups we ed came up after searches for "teenagers," "friends" and " One asked if we were male or female. Most simply said "hey. His profile picture was a young man with his shirt off. Over the course of a month, another fictitious profile we used to the 10 public groups received more than 25 messages, just two from female users.
One sender's profile used photo of male genitalia as the avatar. Another sent a picture of a full-frontal nude male. But that was nothing compared to the level of interest we received after advertising a profile on a third-party application, KFF Username Finder For Kik. These kinds of apps allow people to post their profile openly and typically include filters for age ranges from 13 upwards. Within 10 minutes of advertising our profile, hundreds of messages came in. Not only were many aggressive in tone, they also contained images of male genitalia. A spokesperson for that app said it had various mitigating measures in place, such as minimum age limits, automatic explicit content detection and black lists on disallowed topics with automatic detection of inappropriate posts.
Users who break the rules are immediately banned, the spokesperson said, adding: "We're trying to develop better tools for protecting the users of our site all the time and encourage suggestions to improve from anywhere. Unfortunately, once control leaves our site and the conversion falls to Kik, we rely on Kik's own system of protection and moderation to look after our users from that point onward.
Something we try very hard to distance ourselves from. Kik isn't helping itself or protecting its young patrons in one big way: Forbes discovered the company hasn't removed profiles of individuals accused or convicted of child exploitation offenses. The profile used by Steinhaus, the man serving 25 years after pleading guilty of taking sexually explicit pictures of himself with a two-year-old, was baddad It remained accessible at the time of writing. As were 17 other profiles named in court documents accused of acquiring or sharing child abuse material.
While it might be argued that sentenced pedophiles are in prison and can't access their profiles, that's not accurate. Just last week, year-old Christopher David Grippe was sentenced to months in federal prison for possession and distribution of child pornography.
He was using Kik while incarcerated for another child abuse crime, communicating with others about sexually abusing children. A Kik spokesperson admitted the company hadn't been removing offending profiles, but promised to do more. We can and will do a better job of proactively removing s for users who have been convicted of crimes related to child abuse. An ed statement from Ted Livingston, founder and CEO of Kik, noted various ways the company tries to keep children safe. Actions are taken against users found to have violated Kik's community standards and terms of service, including removal from the Kik platform where circumstances warrant.
We we are continuing to increase our investment in this area, as safety is a priority for us. Kik isn't ignoring the issue. Far from it. As a of its willingness to solve the problem, the company last year started to roll out a tool called PhotoDNA that helps identify ly-known images and video of child abuse being shared on online platforms, according to a law enforcement official from Canada, who asked to remain anonymous.
The source also praised the company for providing data to police when they needed it, including the subscriber's given name and metadata for their use of the app. But still Kik can't kick the problem. There's also evidence American investigators are treating Kik like a honeypot. The Canadian company provides a full guide for cops on how to use the app, while feds are running a ificant array of fake profiles, even encouraging suspects to communicate with them over Kik rather than other platforms.
In November , District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department detective Timothy Palchak, acting in an undercover capacity on an unnamed classified site, interacted with a user who expressed an interest in incest, looking for a "mother with no limits," according to a criminal complaint. Soon after getting in touch with the suspect, Palchak wrote in internet speak: "Whats your kik dont like discussing on . In an earlier case , a separate investigator failed in an attempt to get the target to move over to Kik.
A suspect responded to another of Palchak's advertisements in August , to which the officer wrote: "Sweet 30 dad here with daughter. Do you have kik? Honestly probably not the safest place to chat. I know a guy its talking to who said it wasn't. Cops are going to incredible lengths in order to pursue offenders too. Police said in one warrant that in response to a request for an image from a suspect, who believed they were talking to an underage girl, the undercover agent provided a real photo of an unnamed officer assuming the identity of a year-old.
The problem isn't limited to North America. They were being approached by strangers and sometimes adults who're pretending to be younger. They also told us about a ificant amount of sexual content on Kik, often related to those strangers contacting them. We know there are a huge of young users on there and they need to recognize that. Experts say predators are now diversifying, using Kik as just one platform to carry out their crimes.
Increasingly, streaming apps such as Facebook Live, Live. One search warrant detailing a case from Ohio where police said they found one suspect was using a range of those applications and Kik in hunting for underage girls. For example, from Kik, to Facebook, to Skype," added U. I'm associate editor for Forbes, covering security, surveillance and privacy.
I'm also the editor of The Wiretap newsletter, which has exclusive stories on real-world. I'm also the editor of The Wiretap newsletter, which has exclusive stories on real-world surveillance and all the biggest cybersecurity stories of the week. If you want to tip me with something sensitive? Get in contact on al or Threema, and we can use OnionShare. It's a great way to share documents privately. This is a BETA experience.
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This $1 Billion App Can't 'Kik' Its Huge Child Exploitation Problem