Is the 'talking angela' app unsafe for children?

The Talking Angela phầm mềm supposedly unsafely prompts children to provide personal information about themselves.

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Published3 September 2013

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“Talking Angela” is not a web site, but an iOS app available through iTunes that provides a dễ thương interactive feature for youngsters: when children activate the ứng dụng and respond to prompts lớn interact with it, Angela, a mèo who inhabits an outdoor table at a Parisian cafe, responds to their gestures and mimics what they say bachồng to them in her French-influenced stylings:

Talking Angela, lượt thích numerous similar apps, can interact with users in several ways: She will repeat, in her squeaky French voice, what users say into their device’s microphone; she can (if the device’s camera is enabled) read facial expressions và react lớn them; she moves and gestures in response to lớn being petted or poked via screen taps and swipes; and she can (if Child Mode is disabled) engage users in robotic text chats.

Since Talking Angela was released in December 2012, rumors about its supposedly unsafe nature have sầu grown và spread khổng lồ the point that some of the more far-fetched information now circulating about it claims that the tiện ích is being used as a recruiting tool for pedophiles or is driven by “hackers” who engage children in live sầu conversations:


ATTENTION PARENTS & GRANDPARENTS! My future daughter-in-law just received this warning from a friover on her page. Do not let your child tải về the Talking Angela app! It is very creepy! Gracie downloaded it without asking lớn her kindle fire because it was không tính phí and a really cute cát. She brought it lớn me lớn 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!

The person who talks baông chồng is not your voice when you type something on talking Angela you know how it takes a second for her to say something there is a guy behind all of this that is a hacker typing all of that stuff my friend who wanted lớn see what the guy would say he said a typo he said I was talking a little cat rap instead of cat nap. Delete this ứng dụng now he gets all of your information he asked me what my name was and he goes on saying other things when I ask a question. My friend typed to lớn hyên I know you are a hacker & the person said I like complements. When you type the chocolate thing or cookie this I don’t really know what it is it wants your picture so the guy can see what you look lượt thích. Parents vì chưng not get this game the game finds all of your information. Angela asks how old are you and when you take those quizzes the guy that answers back wants lớn know what you are lượt thích & finds your information there. DO NOT BUY THIS APP AND DELETE ALL TALKING APPS.

All of this sort of misinformation is completely unfounded.

We’ve sầu spent a good giảm giá of time testing the Talking Angela tiện ích, and it has shown no sign of being anything other than what it is supposed to lớn be. Likewise, Sophos’ Naked Security site also found warnings that the Talking Angela app is prompting children khổng lồ behave in ways that raise privacy concerns to lớn br unfounded: “Talking Angela” is just another entry in a series of similar harmless apps for kids created by the same developer:

The truth is that “Talking Angela” appears khổng lồ be entirely benign, and there are no obvious privacy concerns that differentiate it from thousands of other iPhone apps.

Indeed, the “Talking Angela” ứng dụng is no different from other similar popular children’s apps from reputable iOS developer Out Fit 7 Ltd, including “Talking Tom Cat”, “Talking Ben the Dog” and “Talking Gina the Giraffe”.

Yes, Talking Angela can engage in chat with users và upload photos taken through the app khổng lồ social truyền thông media, but none of the information revealed in that process in shared with anyone, và the latter occurs only with the user’s permission:

We wish to emphasise that no personal data whatsoever is being collected from the users of our tiện ích Talking Angela, which is available as an iOS, Android và Facebook ứng dụng.

The mô tả tìm kiếm clearly informs the user that one of the core functionalities of the ứng dụng is chat, which requires two-way communication, where Angela (a chat bot, not a real person) answers with text và voice in English & talks to the user about a variety of subjects.

The data collected by the tiện ích from the user is not shared with anyone and is actually sent khổng lồ Out Fit7 only in the form of an anonymized data log (no names, no numbers, no personal data). This fact is clearly disclosed within the description of the phầm mềm.

The screenshots within the mô tả tìm kiếm clearly show that the tiện ích enables the user to lớn take a picture of himself/herself và nội dung those pictures lớn social media services like Facebook or Twitter. This is only done if the user wants lớn vị it và the photos are not sent anywhere else.

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In all the time we’ve tried experimenting with Talking Angela phầm mềm, deliberately trying to prompt it to lớn be provocative sầu (including directly asking it questions of a sexual nature, which it always responded to lớn with a dismissive sầu gesture or text response), we’ve sầu been unable to lớn reproduce any of the reported salacious behavior attributed khổng lồ it in various online rumors. Yes, Angela may ask some questions involving the disclosure of personal information during text chats, but those questions are rather innocuous (e.g., “What’s your name?” or “How old are you?”), the responses aren’t forwarded or shared outside the app, và none of this takes place unless Child Mode is specifically disabled.

As the Guardian noted about Talking Angela, the one legitimate criticism of the tiện ích is that it’s too easy lớn toggle Talking Angela out of Child Mode, thereby enabling it to engage in conversations (about subjects such as dating) that parents may find inappropriate for younger children:

The most important thing for parents khổng lồ understvà is that Talking Angela has a child mode. You’re asked if you want lớn turn it on the first time you run the ứng dụng, và at any other point you can toggle it on or off by tapping on the little smiley face at the top right of the screen.

This is important, because the feature at the centre of the scary Facebook messages — Angela’s ability khổng lồ text-chat with users — is turned off when Child Mode is toggled on. If you’ve sầu read about Angela asking kids for their names, ages or engaging in banter about clothes-swapping parties, none of this can happen if Child Mode is on.

What can kids vị when Child Mode is turned on, though? They can get Angela to repeat her words, stroke and poke her (in the non-inappropriate sense!) lớn see animated responses, và make birds fly onlớn the screen — don’t worry, she doesn’t eat them.

There is also a camera feature, which has been referenced in some of the Facebook messages about Talking Angela. It’s true that it encourages users to lớn look into their device’s camera và make specific gestures: nod, shake head, smile, yawn or stiông chồng out their tongue, so Angela can copy it.

What happens if you turn child mode off — as any child can relatively easily — and start chatting to lớn Angela using the text box at the bottom of the screen? It’s this feature that’s fuelled the Facebook hoax.

While it’s definitely not connecting your children khổng lồ paedophiles, it does raise some issues. These are all genuine questions that Angela asked me while I chatted khổng lồ her:

“How long have you been friends with your best friend?”

“I’ve sầu met my best friends at school. Where did you meet yours?”

“What will you vì today?”

“I’d lượt thích lớn be your friend. What’s your name?”

“I’m 18. How old are you?”

“What vì you bởi vì with your friends for fun?”

And yes, Angela does ask at one point “You know what’s fun too? A clothing swap party. Have sầu you ever been to lớn such a party?” before segueing into lớn an anecdote about how she swapped clothes with her virtual boyfriover Tom for japes.

It ends innocently — “Friends ROFLed và everybody at the buổi tiệc nhỏ cheered at us. It was a cool night!” — but taken out of context with some of the questions above, it’s no surprise that parents are spooked.

The point: children aren’t meant to lớn be using Talking Angela’s text-chat feature, yet the app’s developer hasn’t taken any meaningful measures khổng lồ prsự kiện them from simply toggling the child mode off. There’s not even the “swipe down with two fingers” or “write this sequence of numbers as figures” parental gate that’s become comtháng in children’s apps in recent months.