As parents, we’re always telling our kids not to talk to strangers, but now there’s a new site that actually encourages strangers to chat. It’s called Omegle. While you’re supposed to be 13 years or older with parental permission to log on, kids are flocking to the site on their own.
At best, Omegle is giving kids access to adult conversations and content. At worst? It’s making them potential targets for online predators.
What Is Omegle?
Omegle is a free online chatting service. (It appears that there was an Omegle app at one time, but it no longer exists and the website is the only way for new users to access the platform.) It was created in 2009 by then-18-year-old Leif K. Brooks of Vermont. According to the New York Times, its popularity has spiked over the past four months, most likely due to more people being home and looking to meet others during the coronavirus pandemic.
When you log onto the Omegle site it touts itself as “…a great way to meet friends, even while practicing social distancing.” There’s even a tagline that says, “Talk to strangers!”
Omegle randomly selects other users on the site for one-on-one online chats. You can choose to chat by text or video. If you choose to add your interests, Omegle will try to pair you with someone who has similar interests. If not, you could meet anyone.
Chats are anonymous unless you reveal your identity. When a chat starts, people are just identified as “you” and “stranger.” You can stop a chat any time you feel uncomfortable by clicking the “Stop” button and either exiting the site or starting a new chat with someone else.
You can also choose if your chats are moderated or unmoderated. There’s 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 may still encounter people who misbehave.” That said, by both of the entries into the video chat there’s a note saying it is the “unmoderated section,” so it’s doubtful if any human moderation exists.
There is also an Omegle adult site that is just that — very adult-like with non-subtle sexual undertones. There is no age verification to enter; the user simply clicks the “OK” button to confirm they are over 18, and they are allowed in.
Users may not realize that Omegle is also collecting information. According to Cyberwise, the user’s IP address, the time the chat started, their computer’s ID tag, and everything that the user discloses is archived on the website’s servers for about four months. Users can also choose to save chat logs. And, as with Snapchat, it’s easy for anyone to grab a screenshot or screen recording of what you’re saying or doing in the video chat.
Is Omegle Dangerous?
Omegle is very transparent when it comes to dangers on the site. It clearly states, “Predators have been known to use Omegle, so please be careful.” This indicates their awareness of who may be going on their site.
In fact, some people call Omegle a “predator’s playground” because users don’t have to reveal their real identities and it allows them to talk to kids with very few restrictions.
There have also been several arrests stemming from activity on Omegle. A Pennsylvania man was arrested on sexual assault charges in 2018 in connection with a relationship formed 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 on Omegle. There was also the arrest of a New York man just this April who was accused of going to North Carolina to meet a teen for sex after chatting with her on Omegle. These are just a few examples of how meetings on Omegle turned criminal.
Parentology tried reaching out to Omegle for comments on the dangers the site poses, but the company does not supply any contact information on its site nor does it have a customer support line.
Are There Parental Controls?
Parentology did not find any parental controls on the Omegle site. At the bottom of the site’s page in small 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 a parent/guardian’s permission.” But any child can claim to have their parent’s permission to use the site when they don’t, and the site offers no age-verification.
In that same section, there is a mention of parental control protections that are available to buy to help parents limit harmful material to minors. This puts all the responsibility onto the parent, and while it’s important for parents to know what their child is doing online it is also troubling that the site holds no responsibility toward protecting minors.
It’s important to understand that Omegle connects kids with strangers of any age. So, if you wouldn’t let your children speak to a stranger in public, you wouldn’t want them to speak with one online. If you want to protect your children against the dangers that lurk on sites like Omegle, it’s important to talk to them about it. Explaining what and who may be out there with criminal intentions could be your best line of defense.