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With more than million registered users, Kik is one of the most popular messaging apps in the world. Teens love Kik. But they share the network with another big contingent: bots. These are fake, autonomous programs that more often than not, try to entice Kik's users to click on paid-for sites with flirty conversations and the promise of porn -- glorified chat bots with one thing in mind. Who is behind the porn bot epidemic? Security expert Cathal McDaid, who tracks spam on behalf of telcos and has looked into the matter extensively, says most of the porn spam is coming from a single criminal group.
The group is probably English speaking and probably not from Russia, a country known for being the source of many other types of spam. The spammers may be in this for the long haul because they're making good money. Typically a bot will offer to show a Kik user nude pictures, on condition they navigate to a dating or cam site, and enter their credit card information. When users balk, the bots will counter they need the card details to verify age, as in this example:. Most Kik users are savvy enough to avoid being swindled, so conversion rates are low, at around 0.
Still, hitting users en mass means the spammers can make decent money. Even with a 0. Last May it boosted its privacy controls and blurred the images that users received on their lock screens to counter the problem. McDaid bases his analysis on the screenshots that Kik users post on Twitter or forums.
Hendry also suspects the spammers are located outside the U. McDaid has scoured through the conversations of one of the most common Kik porn bots, and noticed that it re-used the same conversations from another porn bot that was active on MSN in , and potentially on Google's GChat in Take for example, the last line of this transcript of a porn bot hitting an MSN user in January Note the first line:. The line is repeated again four years later on Kik :.
McDaid says there are common connections in the wording between all of the above transcripts, from both time frames and all platforms. For years, Kik has been running its own experimental chat bot that tells jokes to users and gets around 1. But last July, it invited brands to set up their own profiles on Kik and approach its users with automated messages too. The advertising bots can't hold conversations yet, according to The Wall Street Journal , to ensure they don't damage a brand identity by saying something silly. But already in July, 1. For the next few months, marketers will be figuring out the nuances of what makes a chat bot work so that, just like the porn bots, they can hold thousands of conversations with Kik users at the same time.
They might try learning from where Kik's porn bot spammers have gone wrong. They might inadvertently lead their bots to meet a porn bot. In which case, something remarkable might just happen. I cover developments in AI, robotics, chatbots, digital assistants and emerging tech in Europe. I've spent close to a decade profiling the hackers and dreamers who are. I've spent close to a decade profiling the hackers and dreamers who are bringing the most cutting-edge technology into our lives, for better or worse.
I've written several cover stories for Forbes magazine including profiles on the founders of WhatsApp and Yahoo, and the Russian Facebook backer Yuri Milner. Before all this I cut my teeth in local radio and the BBC. If you have a story idea or tip, e-mail me at polson forbes.
This is a BETA experience. You may opt-out by clicking here. Feb 9, , am EST. Feb 4, , am EST. Jan 26, , am EST. Oct 29, , pm EDT. Oct 27, , pm EDT. Edit Story. Aug 20, , pm EDT. Parmy Olson Former Staff. AI, robotics and the digital transformation of European business. Parmy Olson. I've spent close to a decade profiling the hackers and dreamers who are … .
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Kik and the rise of the porn-bots