RIM Pulls the Plug on Messaging Upstart Kik

Research in Motion (s rimm) has shut down messaging upstart Kik, saying it breached a contractual agreement. The sudden move against the hit service has left the startup confused and worried that it was targeted for being a threat to BlackBerry Messenger, RIM’s popular messaging service. The facts are still hazy on RIM’s side but what we know is that Kik has removed push service to Kik for messages and has pulled access to the BlackBerry Software Development Kit, killing any future updates. Here’s the statement from RIM:

RIM became aware of a number of issues and customer concerns regarding the Kik app and service. Following discussions with Kik, the app was removed from BlackBerry App World on November 12. Upon further investigation, RIM concluded that Kik had breached contractual obligations. Based on the broad scope and seriousness of the issues and concerns, RIM terminated its agreements with Kik and withdrew RIM’s support for Kik’s service.

Kik, a fast and intuitive cross-platform chat service, has been a breakout success after launching on Oct. 21 on RIM, Android (s goog) and iOS (s aapl), with 1 million downloads in two weeks and a current base of 2.5 million users. Part of the growth came from Kik’s controversial method of harvesting e-mails on a user’s phone and suggesting them as possible Kik friends. Kik apologized for the move and said the information was never shared or stored. Nonetheless, it got some wondering if Kik was violating privacy policies.

Kik was first pulled from BlackBerry App World on Nov. 12 with little explanation provided. The concern grew that Kik was targeted for its privacy policy or perhaps because of the drain it caused on the device’s batteries. The company had planned to update the app, and showed RIM executives their update a week ago at a meeting. At the time, RIM did not disclose the reason why it pulled Kik from App World and showed little interest in the updates Kik previewed, Kik founder and CEO Ted Livingston said in a call today. Then on Friday, RIM sent a notice to Kik advising them of their revoked status.

RIM’s move is puzzling for a number of reasons. Kik has not been pulled by Google or Apple — an update to the Android app is now live and the Apple update has been submitted. The reversal is also surprising considering how RIM seemed to favor Kik in the past; Kik’s upcoming mobile music service was recognized at last year’s BlackBerry DevCon and RIM highlighted Kik as one of the first five featured apps to be included in its upcoming BBM platform. On a more personal note, Livingston used to work as a co-op student at RIM, has been in touch with RIM for the last two years and idolizes Mike Lazaridis, who like him dropped out of the same college in their final year to start their companies. The companies are also close neighbors in Waterloo, Ontario. It leaves Livingston with few answers.

“I don’t want to speculate. People have said it’s because we’re too similar to BlackBerry Messenger, but we hope that that’s not the case because if that is, this becomes a much bigger net neutrality for smartphones issue,” he said. “We’ve worked with RIM for 2 years. We told them we were doing a messaging service in February. Now, we’re successful and we get taken down, so we’re confused. It’s devastating to have this happen to a young company.”

Even if Kik’s flaw was a contractual breach, RIM’s silence on the issue is only going to fuel negative speculation about the mobile device maker. Why not explain the sin and give Kik a chance to fix things? RIM’s behavior isn’t going to be good for developer relations either — if developers don’t know what line Kik crossed, how will they know to avoid the same mistake? RIM is trying hard to woo developers with its new QNX platform for the BlackBerry Playbook while building more momentum for BlackBerry OS 6.0. It’s been tough competing against Apple and Google though developers I talked to at the most recent DevCon said they were excited to see what RIM does. The company might want to be a bit more forthcoming if it wants to maintain some goodwill with developers — not to mention users.

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