The "Talking Angela" chain letter: Three tips to help you avoid Facebook hoaxes

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Privacy

Facebook is a persuasive medium: a lot of people pay a lot of attention to what they read there.

That's not surprising, because a lot of what you read on Facebook is shared or liked by your friends.

Unfortunately, that sometimes means that hoaxes spread extensively on Facebook, and are hard to extinguish when they get going.

A good example is the Talking Angela hoax, a security warning about a game for Android and iOS devices - a game that is probably best described as "mostly harmless," but that has acquired a sinister, dangerous reputation on Facebook.

Simply put, the game features a cartoon cat called Angela, sitting at a pavement cafe in Paris.

She responds amusingly, if somewhat unconvincingly, to what you say.

If you turn on your camera, Angela will also use basic facial recognition to react to your gestures.

The game is obviously intended to appeal to children, and features a "child mode," which is supposed to limit the sort of questions that the cat will ask.

About a year ago, this led to a widely-circulated Facebook hoax that claimed the game was deliberately (and secretively) acquiring information about your children, as good as implying that the game put your family at risk from child abusers:

WARNING FOR TO ALL PARENTS WITH CHILDREN THAT HAVE ANY ELECTRONIC DEVICES , EX : IPOD,TABLETS ETC .... THERE IS A SITE CALLED TALKING ANGELA , THIS SITE ASKS KIDS QUESTIONS LIKE : THERE NAMES , WHERE THEY GO TO SCHOOL AND ALSO TAKE PICTURES OF THEIR FACES BY PUSHING A HEART ON THE BOTTOM LEFT CORNER WITHOUT ANY NOTICES . PLEASE CHECK YOUR CHILDREN'S IPODS AND ALL TO MAKE SURE THEY DO NOT HAVE THIS APP !!! PLEASE PASS THIS MESSAGE ON TO YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY MEMBERS THAT HAVE KIDS !!!!

Lots of things about this warning scream, "Bogus!"

The use of ALL CAPS, the mis-spellings, the illiterate punctuation, and the almost casual inaccuracies - it talks about a "site" in one sentence and an "app" in the next - ought to have been enough to condemn this warning to the dustbin of history at once.

But there was just enough truth for people to pass it on anyway.

For example, the app used to have a heart-shaped button for taking pictures, though it was no more sinister than your phone's regular camera app. (The bit about taking pictures "without any notices" was untrue, by the way.)

So this hoax reached a critical mass, as more and more people endorsed it, and their friends endorsed it in turn.

We wrote about this hoax almost exactly a year ago, in February 2013.

Well, the Talking Angela hoax is back, this time going well beyond merely implying that the game puts your family at risk:

I cant even in words say what I just found out.. I am SHOCKED and want to tell and let my friends and family be made aware so they can make sure their children are safe!!! Angelica stayed home from school today and thank GOD she did. Because she was on her ipod playing a game called talking angela, which is similar to talking tom, anyway as she is sitting next to me this interactive cat says to her hi angelica where is your brother?...

...So please if your KIDS use this app please shut it down. Because SOME KIDS told them the name of the school they went to and is now on red alert at the school, and please PASS this on to ALL your friends.

We've left out the bulk of the rant - it's close to 600 rambling, repetitous 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.

Indeed, you ought to be able to see from the parts we've quoted above that this is not the sort of posting you should be using to inform yourself about online privacy.

Here's why, in the form of three tips.

1. Stop. Think. Apply some critical reasoning.

Hoaxes can be well-written, and truth can be written badly.

But when everything about a written article screams, "Why would I believe this?" then, to ask an obvious question, why would you believe it?

Importantly, when an article makes very specific claims on behalf of other people, it should at least provide credible links that back the story up.

For example, in the 2014 version of this hoax, the author writes, "The police are saying take it off of your phone," without backing up that claim at all - so if you pass on the hoax uncritically, you too are putting words in the mouths of the police.

In particular, be suspicious of endorsing computer security articles that make specific technical claims without giving technical specifics.

Even if the article turns out to be correct, you were taught at school to "show your working" for good reasons.

Reaching the right conclusion for the wrong reason is unhelpful, and gives you a false sense of your ability to solve similar security problems in future.

And reaching the wrong conclusion is, plainly and simply, wrong, and means you are likely to waste time trying to fix security problems that don't exist at all.

2. Don't forward hoaxes "just in case".

Even when you know, or strongly suspect, that a story is untrue, it's tempting to pass it on anyway, and to rely on the recipient making his or her mind up:

Whether or not it's a hoax it's good to share so people can be looking at what their kids are on all for a good cause right people.

But that's simply not true.

Remember the boy who cried, "Wolf!" unnecessarily, until his fellow villagers simply wouldn't believe him any more?

When a real wolf showed up, they ignored him.

3. Remember that security is a journey, not a destination.

The attractive thing about the Talking Angela hoax is that it promises an easy fix, at least to the millions of people who have the app installed: simply remove it.

But the hoax doesn't offer any additional advice, or call for any general sort of vigilance to protect your children online.

For example, the makers of the Talking Angela app have numerous similar apps featuring other characters such as Santa, Pierre the Parrot and Ben the Dog - yet the hoax fails to mention them at all.

And if you're worried about your children being exposed to apps that can take photos, or upload personal information to Facebook, shouldn't you be worrying about what your children get up to with the regular Camera app, or the built-in browser?

There's a great comment, posted on our previous article about this hoax, that we thought worth repeating here:

Check out the app for yourself and if anything doesn't sit well, don't let the kids at it. It's called parenting and more people need to try it.

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42 Responses to The "Talking Angela" chain letter: Three tips to help you avoid Facebook hoaxes

  1. Allen · 196 days ago

    The better question is, why do you even let kids have these devices? I mean if you're worried about apps doing that why even give them a device like that in the first place?

    • LOL I SAID THE SAME THING!!!

    • jenna · 190 days ago

      First of all, it sounds like you get a cut of the money and are butt hurt because people won't play these games. Second, its up to the parents what games they do and don't play. Yes after talking to a cop this could happen and does all the time. Why do you care if it is a hoax or not is the better question. Why mislead people? Why do you care if kids stop playing these games? why no point out some more obvious hoaxes than bring this one up on your list. I think this is a scam to exploit facebook. good luck with that!

      • Chi · 179 days ago

        I agree that it is the parent's job to know what the kid is playing and all of that junk, but is it also a parent's job, hell a kid's job to just randomly post something saying stuff that's completed made up in general? Also a hoax is a hoax, if the hoax is obvious, then no point in exploiting it, people may be stupid at times, but they aren't so stupid that they would believe in something that's obviously a hoax that needs no explanation

    • karla · 185 days ago

      true

  2. MikeP_UK · 196 days ago

    Safest way to avoid getting caught out is - Don't be on Facebook! Or Twitter. Or Flickr. Or .... Use your time better by talking to your friends face to face. Especially if they are in the same room!

    Secondly, engage brain before using your device. Think first and be highly sceptical of everything you read on any web site or any web page as enough of it is untrue or downright dangerously wrong to be a serious risk in several ways.

    If you don't know the sender it is probably at least spam but could easily be malicious. If you do know the sender but it's come indirectly from them, through Facebook for example, be sceptical again. Was it really sent by them?

    • Jondalar · 196 days ago

      Now what's wrong about Flickr???

    • The problem with talking to my friends face to face is that I can't afford the airfare! :P
      Besides, the 18 hour flights really blow!

      • Ice · 191 days ago

        You need to use Facebook or Twitter to communicate online? Get educated fool!

    • Scott · 193 days ago

      I thing the best solution is not to make your children ignorant to these types of situations but rather educate them on how to deal with them when they occur. I'm not saying you should tell your children about all the bad things in the world but just that unless your children are so young that they never leave your side it's very hard to police when and where they can gain access to the net e.g. school, the local library, a friends house etc. At least if they are online at home you can monitor the types of sites they visit and teach them how to react if they are approached. Just my thoughts :-)

  3. Missyt · 195 days ago

    This is the most freakiest, unappropriate, spookiest and alarming app i have ever used. I takes videos of u, ur surrounding in. Order to build a coversation. This app is dangerous.

    • emily · 195 days ago

      its so scary my kid nearly gave our address away

      • Paul Ducklin · 194 days ago

        When you say, "It's scary," do you mean were scared by the app, or by the fact that your child nearly revealed your address online?

        As far as we can tell, revealing your address to this app does not result it in going any further, whatever you may have read elsewhere.

        But lots of other sites and apps *do* ask your address so they can collect it for commercial purposes, so you should be teaching your child about revealing personal information: he or she won't be protected just by blaming this app. (See point three above.)

        I urge you to read the last link in the article above, our Top Ten Tips to keep children safer online:

        http://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/safer-internet-day-dont-be-an-online-sheep-our-top-10-tips

        • Anonymous · 192 days ago

          THIS WAS NOT IN ALL CAPS when I saw it so what have you to say???

          "I cant even in words say what I just found out.. I am SHOCKED and want to tell and let my friends and family be made aware so they can make sure their children are safe!!! Angelica stayed home from school today and thank GOD she did. Because she was on her ipod playing a game called talking angela, ...[comment shortened; continues with the same text that is shown and quoted in the article above]..."

          • Paul Ducklin · 192 days ago

            I have this to say: I think you need to read the article more carefully.

            • Anonymous · 186 days ago

              Thank you! At least we have one person with a brain here.

        • Giana · 182 days ago

          My friends at school say say it's real but I'm just really scared I don't know who to believe is it true or a hoax my friends say it is true but I looked all over the internet and it says its a hoax- confused

      • Suspicious · 193 days ago

        I think this probably states why this is a dangerous app when you download the app this is what your agreeing to when you install it on your phone

        1-WHY? DO THEY NEED TO MONITOR RECORD AND PROCESS YOUR PHONE CALLS

        2-WHY? DO THEY WANT TO MONITOR YOUR PHYSICAL LOCATION

        3 :WHY? DO THEY NEED ACCESS TO HARDWARE ON YOUR PHONE SET

        • ThinkAboutIt · 193 days ago

          1. The app has a mode where it repeats what it hears so it needs microphone access. And most mobile apps need to access your phone ID for analytics and ads.
          2. They do not monitor your physical location.
          3. I'll let you figure it out yourself - hint: a phone is a piece of hardware and an app needs access to it in order to work ;)

        • Gloria · 192 days ago

          When the phone asks for permissions you CAN deny them. While I haven't personally used this app, most apps like it ask for hardware permissions to use your microphone (because it mimics you)

        • Paul Ducklin · 192 days ago

          Did you install Talking Angela from the Play Store, or did you get it from an "off-market" site?

          As far as I can see, the version I installed from the Play Store did not acquire permission to monitor and record phone calls, and it did not acquire access to my location data.

          The app *did* acquire access to the microphone and the camera, but the reason why is obvious from the app's own description: if you aren't willing to accept apps that can record or take pictures...don't install it.

          (I'm not judging whether it's good or bad to allow an app to access to your microphone and camera, I'm just pointing out that this app makes it pretty clear in advance that it will use both of those pieces of hardware, so it's not exactly a sneaky surprise when it does, and the answer to your question "WHY DO THEY NEED ACCESS TO HARDWARE ON YOUR PHONE" ought to be obvious.)

      • Anonymous · 192 days ago

        What's scary is that your child almost gave the address away. Not the app.

      • alea · 185 days ago

        its not true, look on app store reviews

      • Unknown · 25 days ago

        I feel sorry for you

    • Paul Ducklin · 194 days ago

      Do you let your children use Facebook? It actively encourages you to upload and share photos in order to build a permanent social network with people around the world.

      The problem with blindly saying "this app is dangerous" with no evidence is that you might be focusing your security and privacy concerns on something specific that won't do you any harm, thus wasting valuable time, instead of dealing with security and privacy in general.

      (The age limit for Facebook and Talking Angela are the same, 13, a limit that is surely more honoured in the breach than in the observance - in both the original and the modern meaning of that saying :-)

    • Anonymous · 192 days ago

      It does not... research!!!

    • brea · 192 days ago

      I agree! I do not like this app and who knows, maybe the weirdos creating this articles are from the company! Just so the parents still allow their children to use it!! If I hear one bad thing especially when it comes to pedophiles I delete it! I will not take the chance and wait until I see something bad happen and then it be to late. All they need is one picture and there happy! I deleted all of the talking apps, even talking tom I will not take the chance!!!!

    • Harry · 185 days ago

      Inappropriate, you, your, surroundings, conversation.

      Seeing as you have used the app, you're probably about 10, and you should probably read the article before commenting.

      Now that I've said about spelling, there's a 100% chance I did something wrong.

    • unavailable · 181 days ago

      You people are so gullable.

  4. Jane Doe · 190 days ago

    ""But that's simply not true.
    Remember the boy who cried, "Wolf!" unnecessarily, until his fellow villagers simply wouldn't believe him any more?
    When a real wolf showed up, they ignored him."

    Who said anyone was trying to make up a story? Because of people freaking out you think they're delirious and are making it up themselves? If there's anything to ask about this app it should be 'How did this so-called story come about in the first place?' Not everyone posts random alerts just for the hell of it. (Though the ones who do needs a life)

    I honestly feel nuetral about the situation because children are using these devices when they should be doing other things accrodingly to their time such as schoolwork or they're doing something inappropiate themselves to let it get to a point like this.

    And if I was a parent I know for sure I would be concerened about what is being said between Talking Angela, Tom or whoever

    But then again you guys should really do your research, like you were taught in school. I know majority of you that have tried this game may not have read the full terms and conditions of the app itself explaining what it does and does not do.

    And unless you are the accurate founder of the app, then I'll believe.

    • Why are people giving kids unfettered access to phones?

      Tell me: do kids really need a "smartphone"? Should young children have a live 'net connection in their room, unsupervised? Should children be let on the net unsupervised or uneducated?

  5. jenna · 190 days ago

    You wont get my business anymore.... i would say this is a hoax to sell more crap.

    • ThinkAboutIt · 186 days ago

      You would call yourself a pedophile to sell more? Are you sure?

  6. Vicky Grande · 188 days ago

    Why is The App Still In The App Store Then?

  7. Abid · 186 days ago

    I guess we are all just looking at a little bit of a Frankenstein complex here ...

  8. ANGELA ISNT HACKED · 184 days ago

    Everyone on instagram and twitter says this so I posted every article i could find. Jeez people are STUPID!

  9. AllStarBeast · 184 days ago

    Everyone is wrong who thinks it is hacked. The creators said it's physically impossible because there are a ton of other talking friends apps and the creators said they're not hacked. STUPID PEOPLE!!!!!

  10. britt1996 · 183 days ago

    Im sorry but that crazy cat said that my head would fit nicely above its fireplace. so um yea I think ill be reporting it. oh and if you have the app type in "illumante" and your flash will go off.... do you wanna know what it did? it takes a photo of you.

    • ThinkAboutIt · 182 days ago

      It's as if you didn't read the blog post by Sophos at all.

  11. ayesha · 181 days ago

    you just need common sense and critical thinking for this. which most people obviously don't have

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About the author

Paul Ducklin is a passionate security proselytiser. (That's like an evangelist, but more so!) He lives and breathes computer security, and would be happy for you to do so, too. Paul won the inaugural AusCERT Director's Award for Individual Excellence in Computer Security in 2009. Follow him on Twitter: @duckblog