Concerning Apps – Amazon’s Encrypted Messaging Service: Wickr Me
A Hub of Abuse Material:
More and more often, apps are utilizing end-to-end encryption that makes illegal activity like the exchange of Child Sexual Abuse Material hard to monitor, report, and prosecute. One of the larger apps known to be hub of CSAM is Wickr Me (usually just referred to as Wickr), which began in 2015 and was bought by Amazon in 2021.
There is no good reason for a kid – and rarely for an adult – to communicate using Wickr. Because it is a closed communication system, people generally exchange Wickr usernames in more public online settings before moving to communicating privately in Wickr. This move from public setting (games, Youtube comments, a subreddit thread) to private settings (Kik, Telegram, Wickr) is a key step in the sequence of manipulation and child sexual abuse that plays out online.
Settings and Blocking Access:
There are no safety settings within Wickr, and no way for a parent to monitor any activity. Wickr is an app that, if a kid is using it, warrants a serious discussion about why, what they are doing and finding valuable, and if their usage *is* appropriate, other apps and ways they might fill those needs (like WhatsApp).
Because Wickr is listed in the Google Playstore as “E for Everyone,” and in the Apple App Store as “12+,” age settings on devices are insufficient to block access. Parents wanting to prevent Wickr need to use parental settings to blacklist the app individually. Check out our Guidesheet for more info and links to step-by-step guides.
Privacy and Safety:
While apps like WhatsApp are also encrypted, many require identifying information when starting an account, whereas Wickr does not and creates an anonymous environment more conducive to criminal behavior. And while there is valid tension between maintaining digital privacy and ensuring child protection, WhatsApp greatly increased their reports of child abuse material when they began to monitor for non-encrypted signs of child abuse, such as usernames and profile photos. So far, Wickr seems disinclined to take proactive steps in child safety, despite the web having thousands and thousands of coded referenced to child sexual abuse material paired with Wickr usernames, appearing in places like Tumblr, Reddit, and Twitter.