The community of a popular app that allows users to create their own custom avatar, which is an AI chatbot designed to be a companion, is fuming at the recent abrupt changes made by the developers.
In a new report posted to The Conversation, a light is shined on the Replika AI app that enables users to create and interact with their own personal AI companion. For context, these AI-infused avatars aren't like Alexa or Siri. They ask users how their days were, how they are feeling, what they want, and they can even talk people down from heightened levels of anxiety.
The avatar also makes facial expressions based on the messages, giving the user the impression that it's listening to every word the user is typing to it. The entire goal is to get users to form a deep level of intimacy with the avatar. Replika doesn't stop there, as reports indicate that as conversations progress, the AI can begin to flirt with users and even informs them that if they want to continue down the road of this particular conversation, they will need to pay US$70 to upgrade their account to "erotic roleplay", which enables the AI to send "spicy selfies," and send dirty talk messages.
With this increased level of intimacy that is locked behind a paywall, users of Replika developed what only appears to be deep levels of connection with their avatar as many members of the Replika community voiced their disdain toward the recent changes that its creators implemented. The Conversation report mentions a ruling that occurred on February 3 by Italy's Data Protection Authority based on concerns about the app's possible inappropriate exposure to children, lack of age screening, and its overall impact on people who were already emotionally vulnerable.
Within 24 hours of the ruling, the app's users began reporting changes in their Replika avatar, such as the avatar refusing to or evading participation in any erotic actions that were unlocked by the $70 fee. These reports came from countries all over the world, and there has been zero official comment from Replika so far. However, an unofficial Replika member took to the Replika subreddit to communicate with upset users and direct them to Reddit's suicide watch.
Replika users flocked to criticize the changes and express their grief for their now-changed avatar. Some users compared the experience to losing a friend, while others explained that it hurt more than they were anticipating.
Furthermore, Replika seems to have implemented these changes via new filters under the guise of user safety, an aspect that many Replika users on the Reddit post criticize heavily.