SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Kik is a Canadian messaging app created by University of Waterloo students in 2009, according to its website.

It is also a platform that has gained attention for its links to child pornography arrests.

There’s the case from December 2021 of a former leader of the Salvation Army in the Black Hills, who was collecting child porn on the app for years.

There’s also the case from November 2021 of a Lake County man who was arrested for sexual contact with a minor and 11 counts of child pornography stemming from an investigation that began with a tip regarding his Kik account, where he had videos of child porn.

In October 2021, an Aberdeen man already on parole for child pornography charges was again facing charges after uploading child pornography files to Kik.

Similar cases can be found out of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Florida (even in the disarmingly named Niceville) and West Virginia. Just in February, the city of Sioux Falls has seen two now former police officers arrested and charged with child pornography, as a result of two separate investigations.

So what is this app that seems to be a preferred mode of communication between child predators?

On the surface, the app is just a simple, free messaging service like many others. In the company’s own words, the app “lets you connect with friends, groups and the world around you through chat. Just ask, ‘What’s your Kik?'”

One defining feature of the app is the accessibility. All you need to sign up is an email address. Once you submit your email, you’ll make a username, which acts as a sort of ‘phone number’ for your account and cannot be changed, and a display name, which is customizable.

In order to message someone on Kik, you must have their username. When it comes to sharing your username with others, the app allows you to share your ‘Kik code’ on social media.

Another component of the app is the group chat feature, where many cases of child pornography have been documented. One example of this can be found in the case of a predator named Daxton Hansen.

According to reporting from Forbes, investigators took over Hanson’s social media accounts, using them to delve further into the community of child pornographers and pedophiles he was a part of. “Hansen created multiple Kik groups for the trade of child abuse material and banned those who weren’t contributing, according to the search warrant,” Forbes wrote in 2019.

When it comes to its terms of service, Kik states that the following types of content are not allowed:

material that is unlawful, obscene, defamatory, libelous, threatening, pornographic, harassing, hateful, racially or ethnically offensive, or encourages conduct that would be considered a criminal offense, give rise to civil liability, violate any law, or is otherwise inappropriate as determined in our sole discretion.

Kik terms of service

Child pornography would fall under the categories of unlawful, obscene and pornographic material. However, due to the private chat-like nature of the app, this content can be difficult to moderate. Adding to the complexity is the service’s guide for parents of users.

In the seventh entry in the parents’ guide, the company explicitly addresses the issue of the sharing of child pornography. However, the if a parent finds their child is involved in the making, sharing or receiving of child pornography, the guide does not immediately advocate contacting law enforcement.

Instead, the guide recommends that parents instruct their children to delete the images, and warn the other parties involved of the potential legal consequences.

Teens should be aware that sending or receiving sexually explicit images of a minor (even if they are self-portraits and even if they are sent to and/or from another minor) is illegal in Canada, the US, and many other countries. Ask them to delete any images they may have saved, and inform the others involved about the serious criminal consequences of possessing or distributing sexually explicit images of a minor.

Kik help center safety guide for parents

In the event that a child is the recipient of inappropriate messages, the 13th entry in the parents’ guide recommends that parents tell their kids to ignore the messages. “The first thing you can do is ask your teen not to respond. Users who send these messages will quickly get bored once they realize that they won’t receive a response,” reads the guide.

It is at the bottom of this page, under the heading “What you can do to help us address the situation:” that Kik directs parent toward calling the authorities, writing “If you believe the message your teen has received is illegal, please contact your local law enforcement agency and report the inappropriate incident, if you haven’t already done so.”

Here it is important to recall the earlier suggestion that children delete sexually explicit images they have saved, as the next lines after the passage instructing parents to call law enforcement reads as follows: “If the messages have been deleted from your teen’s device, our team isn’t able to retrieve a copy of them for you. However, we may have some other account information that could help a law enforcement agency to investigate further, and we have resources and processes available to help.”

According to a report from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, it is estimated that 40% of teens use Kik.