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Is 'Talking Angela' App a Threat to Kids' Safety?

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Talking Angela

Talking Angela

Outfit7

According to online rumors, the popular interactive smartphone app "Talking Angela" threatens kids' privacy and safety by asking personal questions, making inappropriate remarks, and taking photos of children who use it.

Description: Online rumor
Circulating since: 2013
Status: FALSE (see details below)

Example #1: As shared on Facebook, Feb. 25, 2013:

WARNING FOR TO ALL PARENTS WITH CHILDREN THAT HAVE ANY ELECTRONIC DEVICES , EX : IPOD,TABLETS ETC .... THERE IS A SITE CALLED TALKING ANGELA , THIS SITE ASKS KIDS QUESTIONS LIKE : THERE NAMES , WHERE THEY GO TO SCHOOL AND ALSO TAKE PICTURES OF THEIR FACES BY PUSHING A HEART ON THE BOTTOM LEFT CORNER WITHOUT ANY NOTICES . PLEASE CHECK YOUR CHILDREN'S IPODS AND ALL TO MAKE SURE THEY DO NOT HAVE THIS APP !!! PLEASE PASS THIS MESSAGE ON TO YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY MEMBERS THAT HAVE KIDS !!!!


Example #2: As shared on Facebook, Sep. 26, 2013:

ATTENTION PARENTS & GRANDPARENTS! My future daughter-in-law just received this warning from a friend on her page. Do not let your child download the Talking Angela app! It is very creepy! Gracie downloaded it without asking to her kindle fire because it was free and a really cute cat. She brought it to me to answer the question it asked. I immediately noticed it had activated the camera. It had already asked her name, age, and knew she was in the living room! I immediately deleted it! Justin Fletcher read the reviews and other parents reported the same issues! Please share with other parents!


Example #3: As shared on Facebook, Feb. 13, 2014:

I cant even in words say what I just found out.. I am SHOCKED and want to tell and let my friends and family be made aware so they can make sure their children are safe!!! Angelica stayed home from school today and thank GOD she did. Because she was on her ipod playing a game called talking angela, which is similar to talking tom, anyway as she is sitting next to me this interactive cat says to her hi angelica where is your brother? She says o hes right here next to me the cat says o cool, then the cat says so what do you do for fun? Ang says I dont know, (now im being quiet and listening because I think its weird this angela cat knows she has a brother and is talking to her like a person) then its voice changes and in some weird robotic voice it says angelica when u date what do u do on your dates? She looked at me got red in the face and said nothing, then it said stick out your touunge, ill stick mine out too, it said what are some things u can do with your tounge? I can find many things to do with my tounge it said it said lets intrract w our toungues. I that point I had heard enough I zaid ang shut it off now! I was freaked out called the police departnrnt they came to the house saif they would have the internet investigations unit and pedofile investigations unit look into it, they called me an hour latet and said something is behind that cat!!! They dont know if it is local or over seas. While the police officer was there and ang was talking to him she told the police officer saturday night her cousin and her were on the app w angela and it asked the girls their names what her brothers name was what school they BOTH went to, and it took a picture of angelica!!! This is under serious investigation right now! When I googled talking angela I cant even begin to tell you what creepy stuff came up! Google it for yourselves please!! But some things are the cat asking girls for their phone numbers! And if theyve had their firat kiss!!! Take this app off your phone please! Theres a big chance thid cpuld be a door for pedofiles.the police said they have seen thing *like* this but never actually through a childs app but that they are not putting it past them! The girls told angela the cat on saturday their names and she had a brother and then on monday morning when angelica turned the app back on, It remebered her name and that she had a brother!!! These things ARENT supposed to ask you questions!!! and especially not questions about dating toungues or kissing!! I am disgusted! I dont feel safe at all right now! Knowing that there was some creep talking to my daughter and my neice through a talking app!!! Please if you have this app or any like it the police are saying take it off of your phone!!! Copy and share and send out PLEASE! This word needs to spread! I pray the ocean county investigators can crack this thing open!!!!!

So please if your KIDS use this app please shut it down. Because SOME KIDS told them the name of the school they went to and is now on red alert at the school, and please PASS this on to ALL your friends.



Analysis: Talking Angela is a free smartphone app featuring an animated cat that can carry on rudimentary conversations. Contrary to rumor, Angela is not -- I repeat, NOT -- secretly operated by a creepy "pedophile hacker" whose image is supposedly visible in the character's eyes (which makes no sense at all if you think about it, technically or otherwise). There's nothing insidious behind Talking Angela, just a basic AI (artificial intelligence) program designed to provide an enjoyable, reasonably realistic user experience (the same goes for Talking Tom Cat, a similar free app offered by the same company).

I downloaded the app onto my own phone and tried to replicate some of the more troubling interactions described in the messages above, without success. I looked at the app's features and read the manufacturer's documentation and found nothing to support the claims that Talking Angela says inappropriate things, stores private information, takes photos of users, or could be used by pedophiles to stalk children.

When set on child mode, Talking Angela simply repeated everything I said and didn't seem capable of asking or answering questions. In adult mode, the app reverted to text only and was able to ask and answer simple questions on predetermined topics. A few of the questions and responses were mildly personal in nature, but none I saw seemed particularly invasive or wildly inappropriate. Here's how the manufacturer's website describes the app's interactive capabilities:

Q: Does Talking Angela ask personal questions?

A: When not operating in child mode, Talking Angela asks users their name and age. The reason for this is to provide the best possible experience and optimize the app’s content. Although all topics are family-friendly, the Talking Angela app is able to determine the most suitable topics of conversation according to a user’s age. For example, if the user is a child, the chat bot will discuss familiar topics such as school.

This information will be visible to Outfit7 only on an aggregated level. This means that we will be able to see how many users of each age we have, but will not be able to determine the name and age of a particular user.

A press release emailed to me by Outfit7 spokesperson Cassie Chandler further explains how Talking Angela's "chat bot" technology works:

If child mode is not selected, Talking Angela’s highly advanced chat bot function is activated.  This is a computer program designed to simulate an intelligent human brain, with the purpose of entertaining adults.  We have invested heavily in this cutting edge technology, constantly refining the artificial adult brain to make Angela more intelligent and competent at holding real-life conversations.  In line with the interactive progression of all our characters, we have an international team who are fully dedicated to Talking Angela’s responses, both through touch and conversation.

We’ve worked hard to make Angela as intelligent as a human but, the fact remains, she is still a computer program so can be confused by strange questions, incorrect spelling and deliberately provocative words.  As such, some of her answers can be strange. All computer programs of this nature have their limitations – which is why the chat bot function is disabled when in child mode.

Though I initiated "conversations" in which I divulged personal information such as siblings' names and my geographical location, the app didn't seem to be able to recall such details from one session to the next, though it did remember my name.

I found that the app did activate the phone's camera to insert a small live image of my face on screen during "chats," but I saw no evidence that photos or videos of me were being taken, stored, or sent to a third party. A statement on the manufacturer's website confirms these impressions:

Q: Does Talking Angela store photos of you?

A: No. The app uses gesture recognition technology through the use of a front camera. This enables Talking Angela to recognize face gestures, which enhances users’ interaction with the app. This function does not take photos or videos of the user and no personal data is shared with third parties.

There are other features parents should be aware of

Courtesy of Stuart Dredge at Apps Playground, here's a short list of real features of Talking Angela which, though typical of such apps, could be of concern to parents:

1. Child mode is easily turned off.

2. The app connects to YouTube via links to promotional videos by Talking Angela's manufacturer, Outfit7. The promo videos themselves are child-safe, but once on YouTube a child could continue browsing and be exposed to videos and user comments that aren't so safe.

3. There are in-app advertisements which, if clicked, take the user to an app store external to the game.

4. Talking Angela allows in-app purchases using virtual coins, a certain number of which come free with the game but more of which must be bought from an app store -- linked to within the game -- using real money.

Knowledge is power

It goes without saying that parents ought to supervise their children's use of computers and smartphones, and that goes for downloadable games and apps, as well. It also goes without saying, or at any rate I hope it does, that parents need to learn at least a little bit about how such devices and apps work in order to properly supervise their use. Ideally, this would entail reading the documentation, downloading the app, trying it out, and familiarizing oneself with all of its features before handing it over to the kids. Some parents may do so and decide Talking Angela isn't appropriate for their children. That's perfectly okay.

But sharing baseless rumors and gossip is neither constructive nor a fulfillment of anyone's parental responsibilities.

Update: Did a 7-Year-Old Go Missing After Installing Talking Angela?

Sources and further reading:

Talking Angela iPhone App Scare Spreads on Facebook
Sophos Naked Security, 25 February 2013

No, the Talking Angela App Is Not Dangerous for Your Children
The Guardian, 17 February 2014

Talking Angela App: 10 Things You Need to Know as Parents
Apps Playground, 20 February 2014

Talking Angela FAQs
Outfit7 (manufacturer)

The Dangers of Smart Phones
About.com: Family Technology

The Family-Friendly iPad
About.com: iPad

How to Set Up Parental Controls on iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone
About.com: Internet/Network Security

Last updated 02/23/14

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