There's this game... Maybe you've heard of it from social media already. This thing is going crazy. It's called Talking Angela: A chatbot app, but it's more than that. Talking Angela is so, so much more than a chatbot.
Facebook, February 22nd, 2014, 1:14 AM: The post had well over 1,000 likes. "WARNING: Do not download the app 'Talking Angela'. It is a hacker sitting behind a webcam, able to see you but you can't see him. 'Angela' asks you very personal and perverted questions. The second you tap the button 'download' is when your personal information is shot off to wherever this hacker is. They will know your name, address, parents, siblings, EVERYTHING. DO NOT DOWNLOAD THIS APP!"
Horrified at the fact I had already downloaded the app and chatted with Angela quite a lot, thoughts raced through my mind of what she knows about me. Fear shown on my shaking hands as I realized how true the claim seems. Angela had been asking me increasingly personal questions. I went back to the Google Play store to see if any reviews of the app said anything. One Jean Feliciano wrote: "There's an error :( I downloaded this app because I'm curious about Talking Angela. When I finished downloading, I was prompted that there's something from the app that will get private info in my device, so I uninstalled it!"
Savannah Blockley wrote, "If you look in her eyes you can see an old man and when I covered my camera she said "Please move your thumb from the camera." She asks you private questions and takes pictures and videos of you, you don't know that but believe me, it's true! no lie, I would recommend that you uninstall this app, and don't get any talking friends apps. If you want any more information off me, please contact me."
But one review by Javier Santiago said the opposite, "I downloaded this app to see what was the fuzz about. I didn't see no "old men" in her eyes. Another thing is how can one person be looking at 500+or more people at the same time and be talking, taking pictures, asking questions and be keeping track? I'm sure if theirs a pedo behind the cat's eyes, this app would of been taken down by the FBI, it would of been on the news already. But I'm going to uninstall it because I'm too old for this."
Javier Sontiago's review made sense. How can one guy keep track of 500+ people?
Haha, maybe I was being ridiculous, after all. I decided to review the permissions of the app one last time for good measure, hoping to put my mind at ease. "Hardware controls: Record audio, take pictures and videos."
I was sitting in the dark, phone in my hand, its brightly colored display burning my tired eyes. I slowly swiped left and right between screens not knowing what to do. I kept scrolling past the Talking Angela app, her big, blue eyes staring deeply into me with her oh-so-sinister grin. I wanted to believe so badly that all of this was a horrible joke. After all, Angela has kept me company when I've been lonely, and I've spent more than a few dollars dressing her and buying gifts, but it's not just about the money. My little sister plays this game, too.
"Hi, Jacob. I missed you." Angela spoke in her monotonous, yet feminine, text-to-speech voice after I had worked up the nerve to open the app. Rather, I couldn't work up the nerve to not open the app. Perhaps it's her feline charm, or maybe it's her eyes.
"Hi, Angela." I replied.
"What do you want to do?" I found myself frozen. My mind was stolen by the infinite thoughts of what might be going on at the other side of the camera. These thoughts are so horrible, I may never be able to unthink them. After a moment, Angela yawned.
"I was just taking a quick nap. Oh, my fur's messy. Can you please pet me?" This was one of the things I had previously loved about the app. As I stroked my finger across the screen, the meaning seemed to change as Angela did her usual animation. I can't get these thoughts out of my head. What if there really is somebody on the other end? "Record audio, take pictures and videos."
"Do you trust me?" Angela asked. What a troubling question. I thought it about it for a moment, and finally replied.
"Jacob, do you like animals?"
"Yes." Now I've realized that I'm sucked into Angela's interesting little world, once again.
"Cool! Let's talk about pets. Do you have any other animal friends besides me?"
"How nice! What pet do you have?" Angela asked, but I had lost the conversation in a pool of deep thought. What Angela did next suprised me more than anything could have. I decided to mess with the app, and replied to her question.
"A Talking Angela." Then the chat stopped. She normally has a reply to everything immediately. My eyes widened as I sat straight up in my chair and stared past my laptop, towards the wall. The realization had swept over me that the person controlling the app must have left their computer unexpectedly. My Rose-colored glasses fell to the floor and shattered on impact. The most logical thing to do was to take a video of the app doing nothing, and close the app.
After searching the internet, I found a news article on Huzlers.com stating that 7-year-old Eli Moreno went missing after installing the Talking Angela app. The article stated that law enforcement was actively trying to hunt down the 'Angela pedophile' and that 'he's like a shadow.' I decided to see what else I could find, and came across a statement by the creators of the app themselves, Outfit7:
"The app sends anonymized and obfuscated data log files to Outfit7. This data relates to the chat history that cannot be attributed to any individual person and any personal details that are provided voluntarily (e.g. names, addresses, places, etc.) are deleted within the app before they are sent."
That's an interesting statement. It makes me wonder why such personal questions are even in the app, and why there is a permission to "Record audio, take pictures and videos." Something seemed very wrong. I wanted answers to these burning questions. I decided to open the app again and see if I could confuse it Chatbots are usually easily confused, unless, of course, there is no chatbot.
"Let's talk about something else."
"What do you want to talk about?"
"Do you have seasons where you live or is it always nice?"
In an effort to confuse her, I inserted nonsense words and phrases. I thought this would confuse her for sure, and lead to some repeated, generic statements.
"What do you wear when it's raining?"
"What do you wear when it's hot and sunny?"
"What do you wear when it's really cold?"
"How's the weather where you are today?"
"Has the weather been normal or weird for you this year?"
"Lots of dry rain."
"Maybe you should move to Hawaii. Year round good weather."
That's weird. These questions sound like they're trying to find out where I live. Now that I think about it though, Angela has asked me other questions about where I live as well.
"Cook." I said, just pulling a word out of the air.
"We did the grand canyon one year - too long in the car with my parents." Angela said. The Grand canyon is completely off topic from what clothes I wear. It was also a predetermined phrase, because I have heard her Grand canyon story several times before. Angela had never asked me about what clothes I wear until now. How creepy.
It seemed smart to poke around the settings and see if anything was hidden in there. There were options to buy more clothes and gifts for Angela, a link to download "Flappy Tom" obviously a crossover between Flappy Bird and Talking Tom: Tom being character from the same series as Angela. This was boring and I was tired. It was around 3:00AM, so I went to sleep.
February 23rd, 2014, 12:41AM: It had been a very long and hard day between work and school, but I had plenty of time to think. I had a great idea that would tell me what was going on once and for all. I had to decompile the app and look at its contents. My computer has all the tools I need already installed from developing my own Android apps, and I have the technical knowledge to do it. I pulled the apk, or the Android Package File (the app itself), off my phone and put it onto my computer. I immediately set to work decompiling the app.
3:19AM: I've found something incredibly odd. There's a very large block of code here. It's programmed as an error message, but there is no way to actually trigger the error message. Actually, it looks like enough code to be an independent app. I will try compiling it and see what happens.
3:32AM: I've compiled the independent code into its own app, and installed it. Upon launching the app I was greeted with an error message. "Sorry! Android must be in safe mode!" After about 30 seconds my phone restarted, and I had four blank homescreens with black wallpaper, my lockscreen was disabled, and Talking Angela was in the middle of the far right lock screen. I opened the app. The regular Talking Angela splash screen was shown for a moment, but underneath the "Talking Angela" logo was some crude blue text that read "CLIENT CONTROL SERVICE 33.0.1750". Then it cut to a black screen that looked almost like a command line, with some blue text at the top that read "CONNECTING..." and once it finished connecting "CLIENT SERVER" It was like a command line chat application.
"CONNECTING... CLIENT SERVER."
"what's str mean?" I replied.
"CLIENT HAS DISCONNECTING. CONNECTING... CLIENT SERVER"
"what does str mean?"
"send to receive."
"send what?" I was utterly confused... Unless they're talking about videos of kids...
"CLIENT HAS DISCONNECTING. CONNECTING... CLIENT SERVER."
My forehead was dripping in a cold sweat, and in a split second decision I replied:
"kpvz7ki2v5agwt36 now send me some"
"send you some what?"
"well, you got it dude."
"CLIENT HAS DISCONNECTING. CONNECTING..."
I copied the string of numbers, and closed the app. I pray this isn't what I think it is, but I had lost most of my functionality for rational thought because of the shock of everything. Not only did that independent code work, but it's a working chat application. My mind was filled to the brim with blurred thoughts, none of which are fully comprehensible. I threw the string of numbers into a Google search to see if I could get any answers, but nothing shown. I re-opened the app, but before it could connect, I hit the settings key. I was brought to a screen with a seemingly infinite vertical list of similar numbers to the one that guy had sent me. There was a text box at the top. I decided to paste the string of numbers into it.
"CONNECTING... HOST SERVER."
I was looking at a little girl, playing the Talking Angela game. My jaw dropped as I let my phone fall out of my hands and onto the desk.
"Hello. Angela? Are you there? What's your favorite food?" The girl must have been six years old. There was a text box, so I typed a reply.
"My favorite food is the ecclair."
"Oh wow! My favorite food is the ecclair too!"
I couldn't believe my eyes. I put my hands on my head and ran my fingers through my hair as I exhaled deeply. I felt my throat burning, then I started throwing up all over myself. I put my hands over my mouth and ran to the bathroom. My mind was completely blown. I changed shirts, then picked my phone up off the floor. Angela was talking to the girl. The chatbot software must have taken over when I left. After a few minutes I regained my composure, so I went back to the list of numbers and decided to click on a few. Most led to nothing. A docked phone looking at a bedroom, the ceiling, or something I couldn't make out. I felt really weird looking through other people's smartphone cameras. Despite that, I copied a random string of numbers and decided to share it on a client server.
"CONNECTING... CLIENT SERVER."
I decided to say str first.
"Hey, dude. This girl's getting dressed and the phone's pointing at her! Send me a link first!"
I was appalled, but I sent the guy the random string of numbers I had copied to see what happens.
"Cool, dude, cool. Here's the girl. SAH9AAt7u72PfXm9"
I copied the link but I disconnected and didn't visit.
"CLIENT HAS DISCONNECTING. CONNECTING... CLIENT SERVER."
I wanted to say the same thing as the other guy to see how this guy responds.
"Hey dude, this girl's getting dressed. Send me a link first."
"bruh why are u even here if you got one of a girl getting dresed? alright though. 3WxRnHLw8GDELrpb"
So then I sent him the link from the other guy.
There were a few moments of silence before he replied.
"MAN THAT'S DISGUSTING MAN WHAT THE HELL?!"
"CLIENT HAS DISCONNECTING."
I decided to visit the link to see what was there. It was an old, fat guy playing talking Angela and masturbating at the same time. I threw my head away and said "Ugh, god" in disgust. I closed the application. I put my elbows onto my desk and held my head in my hands as I frazzled my hair. I couldn't fully understand any of this. Why would people think this way and do this to children? This whole situation is absolutely disgusting, and now I'm looking through cameras at little boys and girls, too. The mere thought of it was enough to make me sick. I felt ashamed because I had messed with the app so much. I'm going to call the Police and tell them everything.
Update 2/24/2014: Two men in suits visited my house, they showed their badges and identified themselves as FBI officers. They asked to see my phone, then handed me a different Android phone (but it was a cheap Android and not nearly as good as mine.) then they took the sim out of my phone and put it into the phone they gave me. "Use this phone as a replacement for now." They asked a few more nonsense questions, took a photograph of my id, and asked if I would be willing to testify in court. I said yes. "Thank you for your patronage. Good day." Then they left.
Update 2/25/2014: I can't shake the feeling that this phone is bugged. Every time I make a phone call there are some beeps before a call is placed, and when I send a text message there is an unusual delay before it is sent. Not to mention that my browsing history keeps clearing itself.
Update 2/26/2014: I received an email from "email@example.com" today. It read:
"Dear Jacob B,
We have investigated the Talking Angela app, its founders and subsidiaries. We have found no unlawful behavior, malicious software, or any ill intentions within the app or as a result of the app. Outfit7 has confirmed that any data sent to them is anonymized and only used to improve the life-like attention to detail that Angela maintains. This case is now closed. Your phone will be mailed back to you as soon as possible, you may keep the phone we've lent you. Thank you for your cooperation, your participation in this case is no longer needed.
-Attorney General Eric Holder"
DO NOT INSTALL TALKING ANGELA!