Momo

How Momo shows us that anyone can dig in our data

4 minutes to read
Article
Nataliia Vdovychenko
11/09/2018

Momo is a phenomenon that has been attributed to a curse, a hacker and even a maniac. What is it and how does it know everything about us? What should we do if it appears in our WhatsApp?

Momo is a horrifying new contact, which can suddenly appear in your contact list in WhatsApp. It immediately tries to start a conversation with you, or forces you to call. Momo writes stock phrases that cannot leave you uninterested and does this repeatedly until you reply. After a few messages, or a WhatsApp call with creepy noises at the other end, MOMO texts you that she knows everything about you. To prove that, she mentions your name, address, family members, pet name and other personal information. But how does she do it?

The mysterious Momo

The story of Momo starts in Japan. The creepy image she has as her profile picture is, in a nutshell, a sculpture created by the Japanese special effects company Link Factory. It is a hybrid of a woman and a bird. While the picture is used by Momo, there does not appear to be a link between her and the company.

Momo is able to read our MAC address, the unique physical identifier of the device. It gives away specific information, for example your location. Your phone can also be hacked with the help of this address.

The fact that Momo knows your name and personal information does not make it a medium, or a Big Brother. The reality is simpler. Originally it was a bot using a Japanese phone number. A terrifying virus, which spread worldwide within a couple of weeks. But how does it know all that information about us?

The sculpture by Link Factory

 

Momo vs. our data

There are many theories on the internet about Momo. One of these stories traces Momo to the 'creepy' subreddit, others refer to one person trying to scare people. Leaving aside the assumption that it is a demon living in our phones, the more realistic explanation is that by making us reply and open the media files she sends us, Momo is able to read our MAC address, the unique physical identifier of the device. It gives away specific information, for example your location. Your phone can also be hacked with the help of this address. This explains how Momo is capable of sharing pictures which have never appeared online from your Gallery.

There is also a less advanced way for Momo to find information about you. Let us start with the fact that everything happens in WhatsApp, the platform where your basic information is already mentioned. When contacting you, Momo already knows your phone number, name and can see your profile picture. This is a good starting point that lets her dig deeper. With this basic knowledge, she easily finds more information about you in Google and sends back pictures and facts that she sees on Facebook, Instagram, your blog, or any other source.

Momo chose WhatsApp for a reason. One more reason why she is able to operate is because the app has access to your microphone, images, camera and location. The bot is therefore able to use your WhatsApp account against you, collecting information about you through the app.

WhatsApp interface

The risks of contacting Momo

Numerous people appeared vulnerable, meeting Momo online. Momo is able to communicate in multiple languages. The bot uses a constant psychological pressure, does not give you time to stop and think clearly, makes you feel scared and unsafe. She sends you horrifying threads, psychedelic content, such as images and voice messages with scary noises, combined with facts about your own life.

Momo teaches us a valuable lesson. To be careful whom you text or respond to in WhatsApp or similar networks. 

In press it has been said that Momo led an underaged girl from Argentina to commit suicide. Police and media worldwide have warned internet users to avoid contacting Momo and keep an eye on children’s activities online.

 

The Momo challenge

After a few days of the bot’s activity, the account has been disabled. However, numerous Momo phone numbers, fake and not, also soon appeared online.

This started a new movement, also known as "the Momo challenge", in which many people tried to contact her. It got spread further by bloggers filming their communications with it and posting them online.

However, for those of you who want to do the same thing after reading this article, I would not recommend searching for her. Momo teaches us a valuable lesson. To be careful whom you text or respond to in WhatsApp or similar networks. To avoid accepting media files from those who are not in your contact list. To double check the information you have about yourself on your social media, or in the cloud. And, of course, by texting the bot you already willingly sign up for this information collection. Multiple people complained that after contacting Momo, someone tried to hack their social media accounts.

Momo, urban legend becomes a threat

The latest theory about Momo is that all of this was a promotion campaign for some new horror movie. If so, it was a great way to capture people's attention. But what if the news about the suicide was accurate? Are these kinds of jokes acceptable? They make us, once again, realize how vulnerable one can be, sharing and saving information on the web. With Momo one step further was made, as it showed us that even having it on your device might be harmful.