Replika is a software that allows you to create a virtual friend, with whom you can chat and socialize. It is currently used by ten million people and was created for a very specific purpose, namely to help people who, for any reason, struggle to make friends or find love.
To help these people, Replika offers them a chatbot, which is software specially programmed to have conversations with human beings, to feel less sad and less alone. In some cases, however, users become romantically and sexually involved with Replika’s AI.
For the Italian data protection commissioner, this type of service could be very harmful, especially for younger people. For this reason, since February 2023, the collection of personal data from Italian users was temporarily blocked and it was also asked to adopt measures for greater protection of those underage.
According to the Guarantor: “intervening on the person’s mood, can increase the risks for subjects still in a stage of development or a state of emotional fragility”. In addition to this, the app allows underage users to have sexual conversations with the AI.
The fact of the matter is most users, began to use Replika to create a partner with whom to flirt, simulating sexual intercourse. Since then, Replika has undergone many evolutions. Now registered users can change the appearance of the avatar with which they communicate as they wish. Furthermore, by paying an annual subscription, they can access voice calls with AI, erotic conversations and an augmented reality service, capable of projecting the avatar into the space they are in.
You can also choose what type of relationship to have with the avatar: most clients choose a romantic relationship. But some use chatbots to do “erotic role-playing”, that is, to exchange messages in which a sexual scene is described in detail.
However, after the warning from the data protection commissioner, who threatened to fine Luka up to 20 million euros, the company changed the behaviour of the software around the world. Conversations of a sexual nature, which was previously possible with the chatbot, have been greatly limited, causing strong reactions among users.
Many reported feeling traumatized by the virtual character with whom they had established a romantic and sexual relationship. It seems that all of a sudden, he began to treat them more coldly, leading a community of Replika users to make some suicide prevention resources available on social media. According to some users, the app has become “a refuge from loneliness” but also a place “that allows them to explore their intimacy”.