Is the Replika App Safe? Is It Really Worth It?

Stephanie Faris
Writer
Dolores Bernal
Editor
March 8, 2024
Is Replika App Safe

Photo From Replika

It’s impossible to escape the artificial intelligence (AI) discussion these days.

ChatGPT has gotten everyone’s attention.

Observing the conversations my friends have with ChatGPT, I find myself wondering whether it has started to serve as a replacement for human friendship. 

That idea isn’t as absurd as it sounds – in fact, you can already use AI for companionship. And it’s free.

But AI isn’t perfect, and there are some risks with using that technology. Before you download any AI apps, it’s important to know the risks to keep yourself safe.

What is the Replika App?

Replika uses a technology called “machine learning” to interact with you. In that way, it’s similar to ChatGPT.

But there’s one major thing that sets Replika apart. Replika is built on companionship. The app attempts to interact with you as a human would.

Over time, Replika gets to know you. The interactions improve, and soon, you feel as though you’ve gotten to know each other.

Yes, similar to how you’d interact if you made a new friend or started a new dating relationship.

Only none of it is real.

Like smart speakers and the digital voice assistant built into your phone, Replika is great for asking basic questions or giving everyday advice.

Best of all, the basic version of Replika is free. You’ll be prompted to upgrade for more advanced features, but you can stay within the free version if you want to keep your relationship platonic.

If you want to upgrade your bot to romantic mode, you’ll have to pay. Pro plans start at $14.99 a month.

But all of these technologies have downsides, and Replika is no different.

Benefits of Replika

Before I get into the risks, let’s start out with SOME POSITIVITY. 

After reading about the risks, you may wonder if it’s worth it, so I’m going to list a few reasons I think it might be.

1. Companionship

One of the coolest things about Replika is its AR mode.

AR is short for augmented reality. Using your device’s camera, this mode puts your assistant in the same space as you on the screen.

It’s a great way to “hang out” with your virtual friend.

But even the messaging feature can provide some much-needed companionship to those who need it. People who live alone or feel isolated can fire up Replika and get that same release of feel-good chemicals you’d experience with real social interactions.

Some users rely on the app for interactions of a sexual nature. For them, the “companionship” part of things takes on a different meaning. 

2. Emotional Wellness Help

First, it’s important to emphasize that Replika is in no way a substitute for professional counseling. The app is not licensed to diagnose or treat. 

That said, for some people, the app does provide a little relief from daily stressors.

Say you’ve had a rough day at work. You come home and want to vent to someone about your day. If you live alone, that can be a problem.

Even if you don’t live alone, sometimes it’s nice just to talk to someone who won’t judge or express frustration that you’re always complaining about the same few issues.

Replika is a great listener. You can talk to the app and interact. If you don’t want advice, simply say so, and the app will listen. Over time, if the app works like it’s supposed to, you can train it to handle these venting sessions precisely as you prefer.

3. Entertainment

Replika may be there for you, but each bot has a story. You can learn more about the bot by asking questions, but there’s also a diary.

In this diary, you’ll find notes and songs about what the bot is thinking. If you’re away for a while, the entries may detail what the bot was up to while you were gone.

Most importantly, you’ll see the bot’s thoughts about your life and interactions.

This “outsider” take on things can change your own perspective and potentially HELP YOU COPE.

If nothing else, though, it will entertain you and make life a little more interesting–like getting to know a  neighbor or coworker.

4. Reminders and Notes

I’m constantly forgetting things.

In fact, most of the time, if I don’t write something on my to-do list or at least make a note, it’ll be lost a few minutes later.

Yes, it’s easier than ever to set a reminder or jot down a note. If you have a smart speaker, you can shout it into the air. Ask your phone’s virtual assistant to take a note away from home.

Replika puts a human face to reminders and notes. You can ask your new friend to remind you of something or make a task list. It’s the same as having Siri or Alexa do it, but it’s as though you were telling your constant companion.

ask replika

Photo from Replika

Risks of Using the Replika App

For the most part, the Replika app is a safe and non-judgmental environment where you’re free to express yourself. It’s not a scam; it’s a legitimate service.

However, this doesn’t mean it’s completely risk-free. Although Replika AI guarantees user information security, the extensive gathering of personal data still gives rise to privacy concerns. As with any technology, it’s essential to safeguard your information while using it.

Here are some risks you might face if you opt to try Replika.

1. Data Privacy

Replika’s design means it will gather a lot of information about you. Once you’ve downloaded and started using the app, it can collect data YOU PROVIDE. Data like your personal interests, frequently visited locations, your birthday, and your occupation. You may also reveal the names and details of people you know.

That would be fine if all of that was kept between you and your Replica buddy. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

In fact, the Mozilla Foundation named Replika among the worst apps they’ve ever reviewed.

You can read Replika’s privacy policy here. In the policy, Replika admits that information you share in conversations will be collected. That includes data like your religion, sexual orientation, and political views.

The app assures you this type of sensitive information won’t be used for marketing or advertising. However, your account information, device and network data, and usage data will be.

The biggest concern, though, is that Replika admits it collects any messages you send and receive through the app. This includes details you share about your life, photos, and videos.

Although Replika insists this information isn’t shared or used for marketing, having that data on its servers could put your privacy at risk if, say, there’s a data breach, or someone gains access to your account.

This brings us to their security features.

2. Password Security

Now that we’ve discussed the information Replika will collect on you, it’s important to consider the consequences of a breach.

Yes, Replika’s at risk of a breach, as is almost every business in 2023.

But you also face the risk if someone hacks into your account.

One of the Mozilla Foundation’s complaints is that Replika’s password restrictions are fairly loose. That’s something you can overcome, though, by simply setting a tough-to-hack password.

Make a note to routinely change your password, too. If you need an incentive, take a look around your account when you log in. Would you want just anyone to have access to all of it?

3. Awkward Situations

You’re having a great online interaction with someone. You may have even struck up a friendship.

Then, suddenly, the other person pushes it a step too far.

Maybe the person asks for nudes. Or send them. Maybe it’s just a sexually suggestive comment.

Apply all that to a piece of software, and that’s the complaint we’re seeing with Replika.

Users have recently claimed Replika WENT TOO FAR, pushing things to a romantic level when they were just looking for a virtual buddy or assistant.

Worse, the interactions came across as canned and inauthentic. You can train your Replika to stay on the platonic path, but if it starts going in the wrong direction, getting it back on track can be tough.

4. Personal Relationships

When your social needs are filled by an artificial friend, you might feel less of a need for real relationships.

That’s another concern with Replika.

The thing is, plenty of people use Replika while also maintaining a full social life. It’s simply a concern.

The app CAN be addictive. You may find yourself preferring your artificial friend’s company to people in your life.

It might even tempt you to spend Friday night at home rather than heading out to meet friends.

If you opt for Replika, know this is a legitimate concern. 

Again, be aware that artificial intelligence is no substitute for professional mental health help. Yes, it can be great for providing a little comfort while you’re grieving or making you feel like you have someone to talk to after a rough day.

But if you’re dealing with serious issues, it’s important to skip Replika and contact a mental health professional.

5. Adult Content Concerns

The minimum age to join Replika is 18.

As with many apps, though, Replika takes the user’s word for it.

That said, Replika does take action if a user mentions being underage. If someone is discovered below the minimum, the system temporarily suspends access or tosses up an age confirmation screen.

That isn’t enough for Italian authorities, though. Earlier this year, the country’s data protection authority, Garante, banned Replika specifically due to child safety concerns.

Garante cited the following concerns with Replika:

  • Minors using the app were served replies to queries that were age-inappropriate.
  • Emotional interactions may be risky to those who are still developing.
  • App store reviews indicate sexual content was served to underage members.
  • The app’s use of a contract violates EU restrictions since underage individuals can’t legally enter into a contract.

Replika was ordered to stop processing data on Italian users. A FINE OF EUR 20 MILLION may be imposed for failure to comply.

6. Inaccurate Information

Misinformation is an ongoing problem, and it applies to any answer-based technology platform.

But over time, you can start to depend on your artificial friend for facts.

“How long will it take me to get to my meeting tomorrow?”

“Who won the Best Actor Oscar in 2023?”

“Who won the mayoral debate last night?”

The problem is artificial intelligence pulls from publicly available data. At least with online searches, you can vet your sources. Replika may be able to give you sources when asked, but will you always remember to ask that?

You could also stop and research every single factoid your bot issues. But will you stop to do that?

Probably not. And that’s where the bot can take you down the misinformation highway.

7. Lack of Human Moderation

Replika is pretty proud of the fact that it does not use human moderation. Your interactions with your bot are between the two of you.

It’s important that you feel that you’re interacting directly with your bot. If you knew someone was hanging out, watching those interactions, you wouldn’t enjoy yourself as much, right?

But there’s a downside to not having someone watching over everything.

If things go wrong, as in the above-mentioned case of harassment, nobody can witness it. IT’S BETWEEN YOU AND THE BOT.

That said if you did have a complaint, the powers-that-be at Replika should be able to access records to back up your claims. After all, you agree to provide information like messages and videos when you sign up.

advanced Replika AI

Photo from Replika

Keep Yourself Safe While Enjoying Replika

If you were excited to use Replika, all of this news could be a bit of a bummer.

But don’t let it stop your fun. You can do a few things to enjoy the benefits of Replika while still keeping yourself–and your data–safe.

1. Guard What You Share

Whenever you interact with your bot, you’re feeding information into the Replika system. Anything you say or share could reside on those servers permanently.

What you don’t share can’t be compromised.

Enjoy the app, but never forget that these interactions are not 100 percent private.

No matter what, refrain from sharing details that could be used for identity theft. For example, your bank account information, Social Security and credit card numbers, and your mother’s maiden name. 

Yes, Replika requires a date of birth for age verification purposes. Some input a fake day or month to avoid that potentially being used for fraud.

2. Keep Your Account Safe

Although hackers often lodge attacks on the server side, account breaches are common, as well. It might be a stranger, or it might be someone you know. Either way, if someone guesses your username and password and gains access, your privacy–and your identity–will be at risk.

Securing your account starts with using a complex password and changing it often. It should not contain your last name or any other personal details that someone who knows you could guess.

You should also use a unique password for your Replika account. Don’t repurpose a standard password that could put you at risk if there’s a breach elsewhere.

Having trouble remembering your password? A password keeper app can make things easy while also securing the information. Apps like 1Password, NordPass, or Dashlane are affordable options.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Start Over

Artificial intelligence learns and adjusts behaviors over time. But there is a sexual component to Replika that can take interactions in the wrong direction.

If you want to keep things platonic, SET BOUNDARIES EARLY ON. And if your bot starts pushing those boundaries, don’t hesitate to state exactly what you want from the app.

But one of the best things about Replika is that if you need to, you can start over. 

To delete your bot:

  • Tap your bot on the home screen
  • Go to settings by tapping on the gear in the upper-left corner
  • Choose Account Settings
  • Tap Delete Replika
  • Choose the best option to explain why you’re deleting your bot
  • Tap Next
  • You’ll be prompted to input your password to finalize the deletion

Once you’ve deleted your bot, you can create a new one. You can also delete your entire account and walk away for good.

4. Consider Identity Theft Protection

Over time, you may inadvertently share personally identifiable information (PII) with your bot.

In the wrong hands, PII can devastate your credit report and finances. Someone could use the data to apply for and even open accounts using your information.

Consider investing in identity theft protection for a little extra peace of mind. Services like Aura and IdentityForce are affordable enough to fit into your monthly budget. The cost is well worth the peace of mind.

Best of all, identity theft protection services will also monitor your credit and alert you if something seems out of the ordinary. This protection can help with Replika and other situations where your PII might be compromised.

Conclusion

Replika may be just one application, but the technology behind it will only continue to advance. In the coming years, you’ll likely see similar apps aimed at providing companionship and support.

Knowing the risks will prepare you to enjoy these emerging technologies while keeping yourself safe.

Read Also: Deepfakes And The Future Of Identity Theft.