Talking Angela App Developers Deny Facebook Hoax Claims, Say The App Is Safe For Children
Though the Talking Angela app hoax has been exposed for days, the belief that Talking Angela endangers children is still spreading, causing the developer behind the app to speak out.
Facebook Hoax Claims Talking Angela Is Dangerous
Sam Login, chief executive of Outfit7, the company responsible for Talking Angela and the larger Talking Tom and Friends series of Apps, addressed the hoax on Friday, Feb. 21.
“Obviously, it’s a hoax. I don’t know how it got started or how it got tractions. These things just happened,” Login said.
The hoax consisted mostly of messages posted on Facebook stating that the Talking Angela app takes pictures of children without their knowledge and records private information about them, in theory to advance a pedophilic agenda. The messages were written in the voice of a concerned parent, urging others to delete the app from their smart phones.
“So please if your KIDS use this app please shut it down. Because SOME KIDS told them the names of the school they went to and is now on red alert at the school, and please PASS this on to ALL your friends,” reads one viral message.
Other messages are more sinister, suggesting that the app is a front for pedophiles to gain access to children.
“Do not download the app Talking Angela. It is a hacker that is sitting behind a webcam, able to see you but you can’t see him. ‘Angela’ asks you very personal and perverted questions,” one viral message suggests.
Talking Angela Collects And Stores Anonymous Data
The concern is real, and on the surface Talking Angela does appear to be a new brand of invasive apps for children. Angela, a seductive, white cat, speaks to the player using the app, asking personal questions. The app can take photos and uses the camera to record facial expressions that Angela then imitates. Over 57 million people have downloaded the app, and even more use one of the Talking Tom and Friends apps, which include Talking Angela as well as other talking animals.
“Even though it could be easily believed that you are talking to a person, if you pay attention, everybody can easily find out that it’s not a person on the other side: it’s only a semi-intelligent conversation that you’re having,” Login told The Guardian.
“We have no communication to our servers: the brains of the engine are in the mobile app, and everything that the engine responds is pre-scripted,” Login added.
In fact, Login insists that it is impossible for any human to hack into the app and take over the role of Talking Angela, telling USA Today Network, “It’s quite easy to get the illusion you are talking to a real person, but it’s physically impossible to have someone behind the app.”
Login explains that the nature of the app is simply artificial intelligence and that the personal questions it asks, such as names, birthdate, hobbies, are run-of-the-mill questions to better inform Outfit7 on how to reach their consumers. According to a Q&A section on Outfit7’s website, launched after the hoax took hold, the data is collected in such a way that analysts can see the numbers, but cannot ascribe any age or name to one specific user.
“The reason for this [name and age] is to provide the best possible experience and optimize the app’s content. Although the topics are family-friendly, the Talking Angela app is able to determine the most suitable topics of conversation according to a user’s age,” Outfit7 states.
The Q&A page also claims that any personal information given unsolicited from the app is deleted before it reaches the data log files. Furthermore, Outfit7 declares that no outside party has access to the data they collect, saying, “the data logs are not disclosed to third parties.”
Randeep Sidhu, senior brand director, expanded on the nature of the collected data, telling The Guardian, “It’s purely to get information on what’s interesting and engaging for users. We take out anything that could be potentially identifiable. We’re over-cautions in how we filter information, to make sure nothing identifiable can leave the app.”
Talking Angela Inappropriate For Children?
The hoax may be a lie, but it has raised a lot of concern among adults who feel the app is inappropriate for children. Angela is flirtatious, sexualized and likes to drink “giggle juice,” which appears like alcohol. In fact, in the trailer for the Talking Angela app posted above one of the animated characters sneaks a gulp of wine in the background.
According to Outfit7, the Angela’s responses are meant to entertain adults as well as children and concerned parents can switch the game to Child Mode to ensure that Angela doesn’t say anything one might deem inappropriate. According to Outfit7, Angela cannot speak on her own in Child Mode, she can only respond to touch and repeat what users tell her.
When not in Child Mode, Talking Angela can engage in a two way discussion and talk about a wide array of topics, allegedly including sex. One reviewer on Amazon claims that Angela talks about her love life with Tom (Talking Tom, also of Outfit7), specifically about kissing him, and asks users if they have boyfriends.
Login and Sidhu say that Talking Angela was designed to appeal to a wide range of consumers, including those old enough to engage in more mature conversations. According to the official app description on iTunes, these conversation topics include “love, dating, friends, school, fashion, celebrities, movies, music, TV, books, hobbies, food, travel, pets etc.” They also insist that parents who buy the app are responsible for activating Child Mode. Some point out that the app does not have enough parental safeguards to prevent a child from accidentally switching out of Child Mode, and Login says that they are currently working on ameliorating the system.
– Olivia Truffaut-Wong
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