Outfit7 trùm Samo Login to lớn parents: ‘Everybody toàn thân can easily find out that it’s not a person on the other side’

Talking Angela is an ứng dụng where children play with an animated virtual cat: customising her appearance, getting her to lớn repeat their words, and text-chatting to lớn the kind of artificial-intelligence bot that’s been around since the early days of trang chính computing.

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It shouldn’t be controversial, but it is. Massively. That’s mainly because of a year-old Facebook hoax claiming the talking cát was the cuddly face (và squeaky voice) of a paedophile ring, which reappeared on the social network this month, & went viral.

“Do not download the app Talking Angela. It is a hacker that is sitting behind a webcam, able khổng lồ see you but you can’t see him. ‘Angela’ asks you very personal and perverted questions,” claimed one widely circulated warning.


No, it’s not a hacker sitting behind a webcam. No, the questions aren’t perverted. No, there isn’t a “paevì ring” that can get access to lớn children’s frikết thúc lists. And yet judging by the more than 700,000 page views so far for my article this week examining what Talking Angela is really saying khổng lồ kids – parents around the world have been spooked by the warnings.

The phầm mềm is the work of Outfit7, part of its Talking Tom and Friends series that currently has more than 230 million monthly active sầu users, after 1.5bn app downloads since the first tiện ích was released in June 2010.

Chief executive Samo Login & senior brvà director Randeep Sidhu talked to lớn the Guardian to lớn give sầu their view on the hoax, as well as on other criticism of Talking Angela’s suitability for children. Starting with some of those claims on Facebook.

‘We’d need an army of paedophiles’

“Obviously, it’s a hoax. I don’t know how it got started or how it got traction. These things just happen,” said Login, pointing out that the hacker/webcam claims run into trouble when you consider that Talking Angela has been downloaded 57m times so far.

“We have millions of users every day using this phầm mềm. Can you imagine, we’d need an army of paedophiles. It’s ridiculous,” he said, before suggesting that if parents use the ứng dụng themselves for even a short period of time, they’ll feel reassured that Angela really is a virtual cat with a chat-bot handling conversational duties.

“Even though it could be easily believed that you are talking to lớn a person, if you pay some 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,” he said.

“We have no communication khổng lồ our servers: the brains of the engine are in the di động ứng dụng, & everything that the engine responds is pre-scripted.” Sidhu chipped in: “We’ve sầu got some incredibly sophisticated technology based on a lot of work, but it’s actually just programmed intelligence.”

Some of the concerns about Talking Angela have sầu been around the questions she asks: the user’s name, age, what they lượt thích doing at school, and so on. This information might not be transmitted lớn a “paevì chưng ring”, but it’s a fair question khổng lồ ask what is happening to lớn it.

The company has already launched a FAQ on its trang web claiming that the questions are used “to optimise the app’s content”, for example, using the users’ age to dictate suitable topics of conversation.

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Outfit7 says it sees “aggregated” data – “we will be able to see how many users of each age we have sầu, but will not be able khổng lồ determine the name & age of a particular user” – and also harvests “anonymised và obfuscated data log files” to see what topics are proving popular in the app’s text-chat mode, so it can program Angela with more and better responses.

“Yes, we vị collect the conversations, but we are only interested in how certain topics are accessed, và which are the most popular. We remove sầu all the personal information – names, addresses & so on – on the device before transmitting the information,” said Login.

“It’s purely to lớn get information on what’s interesting và engaging for users,” added Sidhu. “We take out anything that could be potentially identifiable. We’re over-cautious in how we filter information, khổng lồ make sure nothing identifiable can leave sầu the ứng dụng.”

Talking Angela"s chat-bot is, well, a chat-bot. Photograph: PR

‘With kids, you can never be too cautious’

When I used Talking Angela this week for the article on what she’s really saying, I had a few concerns as a parent. First, that despite there being a child mode which turned the text-chat feature off, it was far too easy for children to toggle child mode off & bring it baông chồng.

Second, that features lượt thích YouTube weren’t behind a parental gate at all, potentially sending kids out inkhổng lồ the unregulated online đoạn phim waters. On iOS, Talking Angela isn’t categorised as a children’s ứng dụng for Apple’s Kids category, where it would face stricter rules about making it harder khổng lồ leave the phầm mềm. Its laông xã of these restrictions feels lượt thích a problem.

“We are implementing a parental gate,” said Login, although he suggested that children old enough to lớn use the app’s text-chat feature are probably old enough lớn understvà any parental gate instructions too – for example, being asked khổng lồ swipe two fingers down on the screen, or convert a written number into figures.

“Even after adding a parental gate, if someone can use the chat-bot, they can probably break the lochồng,” said Sidhu. “But with kids, you can never be too cautious, & in some cases it can be beneficial, so that’s why we are implementing it,” added Login. “But the sole purpose of the chat-bot is entertainment.”

Outfit7 faces a delicate task in explaining its policies, as a developer that claims its apps appeal to lớn children & adults alượt thích. Some of Angela’s flirtatious chat-bot banter sounds innocent for adults, but inappropriate for children, for example. Some people have sầu also picked up on the inclusion of a “giggle juice” tòa tháp that seemingly simulates alcohol. Again, fine for adults, not so fine for children.

Would it be more responsible khổng lồ launch separate apps for children & adults? Login argued that it would be a commercial mistake. “We have sầu a really wide audience: that’s why we always need lớn take inkhổng lồ tài khoản that the apps need khổng lồ be safe for children, và also interesting for adults,” he said.

“In my opinion, focusing on a very narrow user base in our sector would make our lives much harder. It’s much harder lớn stay on top of the chart if your target demographic is very narrow. That’s why we create apps that can satisfy kids và adults.”

‘The best thing is lớn tell the truth’

It’s a risky line of defence, potentially opening Outfit7 lớn accusations that it puts its commercial growth ahead of parents’ concerns about their children. Likewise his suggestion that “if parents install the ứng dụng, they should also be responsible for activating the child mode” – true enough, although as he admits, this should sit alongside the responsibilities of phầm mềm developers, rather than replace them.

For now Outfit7 is trying to combat the hoaxes by speaking publicly, launching its FAQ và relying on that 230m-strong community to put the word out. “You can’t have a real answer to this kind of virality when it happens. We cannot take any measures that will stop it. So the best thing is lớn tell the truth. What else can we do?” said Login.

“This has been a terrible thing to happen, và very upsetting. The people who make these apps are people who care. Some of the comments online have been incredibly hurtful: they never mix out khổng lồ make anything of that kind,” added Sidhu. “What’s uplifting is that so many new fans & existing fans have been debunking a lot of this stuff online and supporting us.”

For now, Outfit7 is pressing on with new apps, and with a Talking Tom & Friends TV show, building on its previous web series with Disney, which was a YouTube hit. Talking Angela, meanwhile, has rocketed bachồng up the phầm mềm store charts in the last week, even with that backdrop of kém chất lượng warnings.

“Sometimes when you have sầu a crisis, the people who rally around you are the ones who care. We feel supported by the people who actually use our apps,” said Sidhu. “I think we have sầu developed trust with the user base, và it’s growing,” added Login.