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ATLANTA - Kik Messenger, a smartphone app popular among younger teens, is on the defensive following the stabbing death of a year-old girl in Virginia who told friends she was using Kik to connect with an year-old man.
Like Instagram, Snapchat and other messaging rivals, Kik provides free, easy and instant connections to other users anywhere. Kik enables people to message each other one-on-one or in group chats, and to share photos, videos and other content.
By enabling people to identify themselves only by an invented username, it provides more anonymity than services such as WhatsAppwhich connect people through their phone s. Law enforcement officials say the application is dangerous in part because parents cannot reliably prevent anonymous strangers from contacting their children if they use it. Kik made an updated guide for parents available on its website following the arrests of two Virginia Tech students in the slaying of Nicole Lovella seventh-grader who lived two miles from their campus in Blacksburg, Virginia.
The parents' guide stresses that teens between 13 and 18 need a parent's permission to use Kik, but there's no technical way to enforce that or to prevent from entering a false birthdate, McLeod acknowledged. Nicole Lovell had apparently s on Kik and other social media services against her parents' wishes.
Kik Interactive Inc. Asked whether making technical changes to remove the anonymity feature would harm Kik's business model, McLeod said. Many parents have vented their concerns on social media since the girl's body was found Saturday.
They are mobile with their communication. For parents to think they can go in after the fact and see what they are doing is a little naive. McLeod said the company responded quickly when the effort to find Nicole turned to her use of Kik, acting on an emergency FBI request to provide information that the company believes led to the arrests of both suspects.
David Eisenhauer, 18, is charged with kidnapping and first-degree murder.
His fellow engineering major, Natalie Keepers, 19, is accused of helping Eisenhauer before and after the crime, as well as helping to hide the body. Police have not said whether they have recovered any of their electronic devices. The company's website advises law enforcement that it does not have access to the text of Kik conversations but, with a court order or in an emergency, can provide users' location information, including their device's most recent IP address and timestamps of their chat messages, though not their content.
The company also can give authorities some user-provided details, such as name, address, profile picture and birthdate, but says "this information isn't verified by Kik, meaning we don't have any way to know if it's accurate. Jenkins said Kik's changes do little to alleviate his concerns, since there's no way to verify a user's age or parental permission. You can have a year-old with a cellphone claiming to be 18 and be on there," he said. Police say year-old Nicole Lovell was possibly speaking with her accused killer on the messaging app KIK before her death.
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