As parents, we always tell our kids not to talk to strangers, but now there is a new site that really encourages strangers to chat. It’s called Omegle. While you’re supposed to be 13 or older with parental permission to log in, kids flock to the site on their own.
At best, Omegle gives kids access to adult conversations and content. At worst? This makes them potential targets for online predators.
What is Omegle?
Omegle is a free online chat service. (It seems like there was an Omegle app at one point, but it no longer exists and the website is the only way new users can access the platform.) It was created in 2009 by Leif K., then 18 years old. Brooks of Vermont. According to New York Times, its popularity has skyrocketed over the past four months, likely due to more people being at home and looking to meet other people during the coronavirus pandemic.
When you log into the Omegle site, it advertises itself as “… a great way to meet friends, even while practicing social distancing”. There is even a slogan that says “Talk to strangers!” ”
Omegle randomly selects other users on the site for one-on-one online discussions. You can choose to chat by text or video. If you choose to add your interests, Omegle will try to match you with someone who has similar interests. Otherwise, you could meet anyone.
Chats are anonymous unless you reveal your identity. When a chat starts up, people are simply identified as “you” and “stranger”. You can stop a chat whenever you feel uncomfortable by clicking the “Stop” button and leaving the site or starting a new chat with someone else.
You can also choose whether your chats are moderated or not. There is a greater chance of inappropriate activity with the unmoderated choice. Omegle states on its site that “Omegle video chat is moderated. However, moderation is not perfect. You can still meet people who behave badly. That said, in both video chat entries there is a note stating that this is the “unmoderated section” so it is doubtful that human moderation exists.
There is also an Omegle adult site which is just that – very similar to adults with non-subtle sexual undertones. There is no age verification to enter; the user simply clicks on the “OK” button to confirm that he is over 18 and is allowed to enter.
Users may not be aware that Omegle is also collecting information. According to Cyber-wise, the user’s IP address, the time the chat started, their computer’s ID tag, and anything the user discloses is archived on the website’s servers for approximately four months. Users can also choose to save chat logs. And, like with Snapchat, it’s easy for anyone to take a screenshot or screen recording of what you’re saying or doing in the video chat.
Is Omegle dangerous?
Omegle is very transparent about the dangers on the site. It clearly states: “Predators are known to use Omegle, so be careful.” This indicates their awareness of who can go to their site.
In fact, some people call Omegle a “predator playground” because users don’t have to reveal their true identities and this allows them to talk to children with very few restrictions.
There have also been several arrests due to activity on Omegle. A Pennsylvania man was arrested for sexual assault in 2018 in connection with a relationship with a 15-year-old girl using Omegle and other apps. Another man was arrested in upstate New York in 2016 after allegedly uploading child pornography to Omegle. There was also the arrest of a man from New York last April who was accused of going to North Carolina to meet a teenager for sex after chatting with her on Omegle. These are just a few examples of how meetings on Omegle have become criminal.
Parentology tried contacting Omegle for comment on the dangers posed by the site, but the company does not provide any contact information on its site and does not have a customer support line.
Are there parental controls?
Parentology found no parental controls on the Omegle site. At the bottom of the site’s page in lowercase letters, there is a disclaimer that reads: “Do not use Omegle if you are under 13. If you are under 18, use it only with the permission of a parent / guardian. ” But any child can claim to have their parents’ permission to use the site when they don’t, and the site does not offer any age verification.
In this same section, mention is made of parental control protections available for purchase to help parents limit content harmful to minors. This puts all the responsibility on the parent, and while it is important for parents to know what their child is doing online, it is also troubling that the site has no responsibility for the protection of minors.
It’s important to understand that Omegle connects kids with strangers of all ages. So if you don’t let your kids talk to a stranger in public, you wouldn’t want them to talk to a stranger online. If you want to protect your kids from the dangers lurking on sites like Omegle, this is important to talk to them about it. Explaining what and who may have criminal intentions might be your best line of defense.