Talking Angela is a chatterbot app developed by Outfit7 as part of the Talking Tom & Friends series. It was released in December 2012 for iPhone and iPad, January 2013 for Android, and January 2014 for Google Play. It has been downloaded 57 million times (as of February 20, 2014).
Internet personal information hoax
In February 2013, Talking Angela was the subject of an internet hoax claiming that it encourages children to disclose personal information about themselves, which is ostensibly then used by pedophiles to identify the location of these children. The rumor, which was widely circulated on Facebook, claims that Angela, the game’s main character, asks the game’s user for private personal information using the game’s text-chat feature. (This feature is turned off when “child mode” is turned on in the game’s preferences.) Other versions of the rumor even attribute the disappearance of a child to the app, or claim that it is run by a pedophile ring. The former rumor originated from an article on Huzlers.com, which has since been shown to be fake, as are many articles on the (satirical) website.
It was debunked by Snopes.com soon afterward. The site’s owners, Barbara and David Mikkelson, reported that they had tried to “prompt” it to give responses asking for private information but were unsuccessful, even when asking it explicitly sexual questions. While it is true that in the game with child mode off, Angela does ask for the user’s name, age and personal preferences to determine conversation topics, Outfit7 has said that this information is all “anonymized” and all personal information is removed from it. It is also impossible for a person to take control of what Angela says in the game, since the app is based on chatbot software.
The hoax was revived a year later, again on Facebook, prompting online security company Sophos to debunk it again, as they had in its original incarnation. Sophos employee Paul Ducklin wrote on the company’s blog that the message being posted on Facebook promoting the hoax was “close to 600 rambling, repetitious words, despite claiming at the start that it didn’t have words to describe the situation. It’s ill-written, and borders on being illiterate and incomprehensible.” Bruce Wilcox, one of the game’s programmers, has attributed the hoax’s popularity to the fact that the chatbot program in Talking Angela is so realistic.
However, genuine concern has been raised that the game’s child mode may be too easy for children to turn off, which, if they did, would allow them to purchase “coins”, which can be used as currency in the game, via iTunes. Disabling child mode also enables the chat feature, which, while it is not “connecting your children to pedophiles,” still raises concerns as well, according to Stuart Dredge. Dredge wrote that in chat mode, Angela asks for information such as the user’s name.
The scare has significantly boosted the game’s popularity, and led to it skyrocketing into the top 10 free iPhone apps soon after the hoax became widely known in February 2014 and 3rd most popular for all iPhone apps at the start of the following month.