What the F is Kik?

It seems like there’s always some stupid new thing people are using that I’ve never heard of. I’ll end up hearing some word over and over until I finally have to ask someone, “What are you and everyone else in this crazy world talking about?” Kik is an excellent example.

This article is Part One of a two-part series. Read Part Two here.

Sometimes people ask me things like, “What’s your name on Snapchat?” And I’ll have to explain that just because something stupid exists, that doesn’t mean that I turned over all my personal data to said Startup of the Week a few minutes after I heard of it.

To learn more, I asked a couple of so-called experts to give me the rundown. What is Kik?

One person, who we’ll call Todd – which is not his real name, but perhaps equally embarrassing as what he is actually called – gave me the following explanation.

“To say that Kik Messenger is a popular chat application on smartphones doesn’t give it the credit it deserves. Kik is not only great for chatting with your friends, it’s great for sharing pictures and links.”

Okay, Todd, so far it sounds like text messaging.

This Alexis Miller seems like one fascinating individual.
This Alexis Miller seems like one fascinating individual.

“It’s also great for sending images via an image search function, a built-in browser, and most of all: stalking!” I wasn’t sure if the stalking bit was supposed to be funny, so I took the bait.

I asked him: How is Kik used for stalking, and why is that a good thing?

“Kik lets you see not only when a message is delivered, but also when it is read. No longer do you have to hear ‘I didn’t get your message’ when someone wants to ignore you.”

Its unique selling point is built into iMessage on every iPhone, you know? You just have to turn it on in Settings and ask your friends to turn it on.

I’m already confused as to why this app is “something.” I’m also afraid to ask: How popular is Kik? (This question actually means “How many mouth breathers are there out there?”)

Todd tells me, ”Kik currently has over 50 million downloads, just in the Google Play store alone.” Ahhh, okay. You mention Android statistics first. Now I’m starting to get the picture.

”It’s also available in the Windows app store and the Apple App Store.” (Crikey! Where did I put my Windows Phone?)

I also learned that Kik is available in 12 languages and has 185 million registered users worldwide. That. Is. Insane.

Okay,

I mean, why is it so popular? Why don’t people just use text messages, or iMessage if they have an iPhone?

”I think Kik likely owes its popularity to the fact that, unlike other messenger services, or SMS, you never have to wonder if your message was read or not, and it is very easy to use.”

Oh Jesus, Todd. I can’t even talk to you. Are you even listening to yourself?

Screenshot from the Windows Phone version. Looks like someone’s nephew is really starting to get the hang of user interface design!
Screenshot from the Windows Phone version. Looks like someone’s nephew is really starting to get the hang of user interface design!

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but when I tex mex one of my friends, I presume they’ll read it as soon as they can and they’ll get back to me. If I don’t hear from them, I usually suppose that they’re busy or dead.
And it’s “very easy to use”? That’s a relief because sending a regular text message is quite an ordeal. Am I texting my mom or using a code-breaking cipher to hack into the mainframe at Fort Knox? Sometimes I don’t know anymore.

Still mystified as to why anyone would use this app instead of text messaging or iMessage, and not wanting to take Todd’s word for it, I found myself having more and more questions. A little further investigation and analysis was in order.

First, Kik seems like its an app that kids and people with Android phones use. Those are two groups of people I generally try to avoid because they’re not as bright as the rest of us and they have much lower standards. Donald Duck is not funny.

Second, Todd is telling me that the people who use Kik really like it because they can see when someone has read their message. Do these people have such shitty friends that they need to talk through a special app in order to police whether or not they’re being avoided or lied to?

And third, I began asking myself a list of questions about where the app came from. Who built it and why?

iMessage is famously end-to-end encrypted, meaning that when one user sends a message to another it creates a unique key between those two devices. Without the access to both devices and the passwords to both, not even Apple or the National Security Agency can read those messages. Several manufacturers’ built-in messaging services are like this, so why trust a third party?

Seriously, who is this third party that built this poorly-designed app with a crappy logo which is handling billions of messages between millions of users, many of whom seem to be very young?

I was not at all pleased with what I found. In fact, the more I learned the more infuriated I became. I get wound up pretty easily about stupid things.

 

The security disaster called Kik Messenger

Since 1990, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has been “the leading nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world.”

Among the myriad of ongoing initiatives they have, one is the Secure Messaging Scorecard. This project has closely examined 39 different messaging services and scored them on seven different criteria.

That little “R” with a check mark next to a sent message means the recipient has seen it, an incredibly valuable feature for people who need to constantly police their friends’ honesty and loyalty.
That little “R” with a check mark next to a sent message means the recipient has seen it, an incredibly valuable feature for people who need to constantly police their friends’ honesty and loyalty.

As they explain in the project’s mission statement, “Most of the [messaging] tools that are easy for the general public to use don’t rely on security best practices.”

Kik Messenger scored satisfactorily on only one of the seven points, making it one of the absolute least secure ways to communicate with your smartphone.

They found Kik to be less secure than even Snapchat, Facebook Chat and WhatsApp, none of which have have reputations for being ironclad vaults of data.

Some of the study’s findings were:

• Messages sent through Kik can be read by employees of the company.

• Previous communications are not securely protected, even if you delete your account or any particular messages.

• The company has not adequately documented its security procedures.

• The system’s code has not been recently audited nor is it open to independent review.

• The system provides no protocol for verifying the identity of the person with whom you are communicating.

 

Now I understand that people usually aren’t texting each other their credit card numbers, passwords, and PIN codes, so chat security isn’t a huge priority for many. However, as a result of these security holes, spammers and creeps have had a field day, gaining easy access to Kik’s millions of users.

The CBC reported in 2014 that police across Canada had received complaints about automated messages being sent to Kik users. This apparently has been happening on a wholesale level, affecting millions of users, many of whom are minors.

“No way steel trap mind” What ever happened to punctuation?
“No way steel trap mind” What ever happened to punctuation?

Alberta’s Internet Child Exploitation unit said that spam robots have been programmed to send messages which appear to be from other users “either saying ‘hi’ or maybe a little smiley face.”

If the user responds – as many do in order to find out who messaged them – they can be asked to send sexually explicit messages or they will be the unwitting recipient of endless marketing messages.

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection issued a national alert warning that children using the app had been affected by automated messages that “both requested sexual images from Kik Messenger users and sent explicit content to users.”

Global News noted that 12- and 13-year-old children using the app had received unsolicited inappropriate messages and images. The doors are still wide open, too, as “anyone can send messages to anyone else whether or not they know each other.”

 

In the same report, they talked with a 12-year-old boy who “started using Kik a year ago to chat with friends, but one day he received an explicit message.”

The boy recalled, “I thought Kik was just a safe texting thing that you can use to talk to your friends, but apparently not.” He deleted the message, blocked the user, and told his parents. Good move, square, go tell your parents!

In response to their easily spammable system being used for sending pictures of gross shit to little kids, the app’s creator Kik Interactive wrote, “Kik continues to be a fun and safe way for our users to talk with their friends,” in a statement which I selectively quoted to make them look naïve and foolish.

They also noted that the app has settings which allow users to block people with whom they’ve never communicated. But then, of course, you won’t be able to receive messages from your legitimate friends unless you’ve already initiated a chat with them prior to blocking unknown users.

kik-messenger-team
The Kik Team (Photo: Kik Interactive)

So who built this magical, leaky, high-tech information sieve? Have a seat for this.

The website for the app describes the people behind this mess as a “group of University of Waterloo students” who “decided to build a company that would shift the center of computing from the PC to the smartphone.”

I see. Slapping together a porous application that bleeds data and easily allows creeps to send porn to kids is “the center of computing”?

(The University of Waterloo is in Ontario, hence all the noted outrage from the police and child-protection groups in Canada.)

Kik’s website actually has very few links. They have the usual things you’d expect to find on an app’s site: Download, About, Help, Blog, Contact, Law Enforcement, Press…

Wait, what? Law Enforcement? I guess they get a lot of calls.

Part of their company description reads, “We believe in letting our users decide who they want to talk to…” Thanks for that. I hate how other apps choose people for me to talk to.

It goes on to say (and I put all the tired and overused words in italics) “…and we believe in giving brands and content providers the opportunity to engage in scalable, measurable 1:1 conversations with their fans and followers.” Wake me up when this is over. I thought they spoke English in Ontario.

They also claim that “over 40% of American youth use Kik.” People really are idiots, aren’t they? “But Kik isn’t just about our users chatting with their friends. Our marketing tools let brands talk to and share cool content with our users…” Wow, it keeps sounding better and better! I can get “cool content”? Order Generic Brand Cialis Now, Worldwide Delivery, No RX! India pharmacy click here now BEST deal price today. Like that kind of cool content?

 

So there’s your answer. Painfully explained: Kik is a smartphone app that 185 million fools seem to love because they think it would be better to send all their personal messages through some company that was started a few years ago by “passionate” students, instead of using the built-in text message app or something responsible.

The main attraction seems to be that kids these days don’t trust each other, so knowing when someone reads your message is the most supremely important thing in the world. It’s certainly much more important than the fact that all of the messages you wrote to your stupid friends when you were 11 are sitting on a server god-knows-where owned by some students running a modern-day pyramid scheme.

Though, honestly, this server is probably not in their dorm rooms, since these jackasses recently secured $38 million in funding from some wise investors with a penchant for drinking Kool-Aid.

 

There’s another messaging service called WhatsApp that is basically the same thing – poorly designed, free over wi-fi, stupid name, popular with children and wide-eyed halfwits – but only slightly more secure.

WhatsApp has 600 million users and was purchased by Facebook. So even if you’re avoiding giving your personal data to Facebook, they’ll get it eventually. They paid for $19 billion (way more than the GDP of Iceland) to acquire the app and improve the service for the users. Just kidding, they paid that money for personal data about those 600 million people so they can dump it into their marketing algorithms and figure out what you want to buy before you’ve even thought about it.

This article is Part One of a two-part series. See Part Two here.

The good news is, that if you’re like me and you didn’t know what Kik was before you read this, you probably hang out with people who are reasonable and not petty or obsessive. You enjoy quality products and pleasant user experiences. And you have better things to do than sit on the edge of your seat and wonder why someone hasn’t texted you back when they clearly read your message three minutes ago. Goddammit!