A message that started circulating on Facebook last week warned parents that the children's app Talking Angela is really a front for pedophiles.
It turns out the scare is based on a hoax.
"It's all hysteria," said Chester Wisniewski, a senior security adviser with Sophos, in an interview with USA TODAY Network.
Angela is a cartoon cat who hangs out in a Parisian cafe. Angela repeats what the user says and interacts when the user taps or swipes across the screen.
The feature that's raising fears is the ability for Angela to text-chat with users, which is only activated when the child mode is turned off.
The message spread on Facebook begins with, "I cant (sic) even in words say what I just found out."
The message goes on to say that the person's daughter, Angelica, stayed home to play Talking Angela on her iPod. Angela asks the girl where her brother is and "then its voice changes and in some weird robotic voice it says angelica when u date what do u do on your dates?"
The scare is not a new one. Last year, a similar warning circulated on Facebook, reports Sophos, an online security company.
"What we hope people take away from this is you should be looking at all the things you load on your phone and share with your kids," Wisniewski said.
The app is based on chat bot software, and it is not possible for a human to take over talking for Angela, said Samo Login, co-founder and CEO of Outfit7, the company that developed the app.
"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 told USA TODAY Network.
In response to the warnings on Facebook, Login said, "These comments are so ridiculous."
When the text-chat feature is on, Angela asks the user for their name, age and personal preferences to determine conversation topics. Outfit7 said the data from the app is "anonymized" and all personal information removed, in a statement e-mailed to USA TODAY Network.
Talking Angela has 57 million downloads and is part of the Talking Tom and Friends franchise by Outfit7. The franchise has more than 1.5 billion downloads since launching in 2010, according to Outfit7.
Identifying a bogus warning
One way to identify a fake warning is that it does not include links that back up the story, according to a blog post by Sophos.
A fake warning also does not offer additional advice beyond uninstalling Talking Angela.
Although the scare is a hoax, the app could still benefit from some security improvements, according toThe Guardian newspaper.
For one, the chat mode only comes on when the child mode is switched on. But The Guardian reports "it's far too easy" to turn the child mode off.
During text chats, the conversation stays innocent most of the time. But if you ask Angela about cat sex, she will respond that "cat sex is hair raising. It's purrfect!" according to The Guardian.
Login said the company will be adding a parental control to the Talking Angela app, as well as to the other talking character apps. The control could require swiping a certain way across the screen or retyping numbers to exit out of child mode, he said.
This protection has already been implemented in some of Outfit7's other apps, Login said.
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