Omegle, Chatroulette: why do these video messaging sites scare parents so much?

The omegle video messaging site attracts many teens, some very young. (© Hugo Murtas / news Rennes)

Let’s be clear: they are not new. If it is Omegle Where chatroulettethese two places of immediate exchange of messages is from 2009. Why are we talking about it today? Because many parents discover their existence – especially Omegle – and rebel against the principle and content of what attracts (much) their children.

Omegle in the crosshairs of the French government

[Mise à jour] Adrien Taquet, the foreign minister responsible for children and families, will report to the judge on facts about the exposure of minors to pornography and pedo-crime on the Omegle platform, we learned on Wednesday, April 27, 2022.
The French government criticizes this US website for instant messaging in video and anonymously for promoting exhibitionism and the dissemination of pornographic images to a young audience without filters or safeguards.

So quite concretely, how does it work and why does it create so much debate?

Chatroulette: “So 2010!»

Remember … We are in 2010 and a UFO appeared on the net. A site that offers video chatting with strangers and zapping from one chat partner to another with a single click.

“Next” button makes you dizzy quickly. Out of curiosity or disgust, we scroll through the webcams. It must be said that we find everything on screen: creative and (very) funny people, like erotic courtship when it is not directly men who masturbate or women who show up.

Comedian Steve Kardynal with his memorable imitation of singer Carly Rae Jepsen and her hit Call Me Maybe on Chatroulette:

Videos: currently on Actu

The platform, launched by a 17-year-old Russian student, is a hit in the US and France. But if it still exists today, the media hype quickly ceased.

Omegle: from 12 years

Based on the same principle as Chatroulette and launched the same year, Omegle also offers connection between two internet users in a random state. Created by an 18-year-old American, Omegle was originally a mobile application.

Success followed quickly, but Omegle’s popularity did not have the same impact as Chatroulette in France. Therefore, the amazement of those who missed it 12 years ago and discovered it today …

Same process: we are put in touch with a stranger that we can exchange in writing or on video. Unknown itwe can zap to go to the next one as many times as you want. These “foreign chats” launched by Omegle are heavily inspired by what AOL was already doing in the ’90s.

The stated principle: make new friends

Both sides offer the same thing: to connect “strangers”. On Omegle, the subtitled discussion also provides “you” and “stranger” to identify the two Internet users in the conversation.

And this is what users like: discovery and surprise.

“You never know who you’ll come across,” explains Laurie *, 17. “Sometimes it’s a good surprise. I’ve already discussed with young people who are too cute. We made a few videos and switched quickly. to Snap (Snapchat, editor’s note) or Insta (Instagram, editor’s note). Omegle is good for finding people or when you get bored, but it’s a bit heavy. “

Especially when the teenager had his share of “big heavyweights”. “Do not lie to yourself, there are lots of strange guys on Omegle and many old ones. I have already come across guys who wanted direct pictures of me, or who suggested that we each take a bath at home, but at the same time with the video. My girlfriends have already had men’s hands in their panties! »

Reality: a mine of dangers

The “old hand in the underpants”, that’s what comes up a lot in the testimonies we’ve gathered. When slip is not just on the ankles.

To measure the degree of difficulty or ease of access to these two platforms, we tested them.

► On Omegle, no need to sign up. Once on the page, a screen displays the rules of the game: “You are randomly paired with another person to talk one-on-one”. You can add points of interest to refine your search.

We also offer you a special “student” channel, but to participate in it you need to provide your university email: bad idea, although Omegle assures that “you will not be spammed, that your address will not be sold, and that it will not be registered ”.

In the radius of the warnings, the page reminds that the discussions are anonymous and that it is not recommended to disclose your identity and that you can interrupt a conversation at any time.

The homepage of the Omegle instant messaging website.
The homepage of the Omegle instant messaging website.

Where things get complicated is when we approach the age of the users. Omegle states that you must be over 18 or over 13 to visit the site “with parental consent and supervision”. Specifically, this means that (young) teenagers do not have to log on alone. The joke.

In fact, to access the discussions, a window simply asks to check two boxes:

  • the one who validates the reading of the terms of use and confidentiality (which no one ever reads),
  • another who certifies that you are over 13 years old and that you have mother / father’s permission.

And that’s all. No evidence to present. No wonder there are so many 10-year-olds with such demands!

In addition, Omegle confirms that the video exchanges are moderated, but that this moderation is not perfect. Something we could see pretty quickly. Especially since the page on the same screen announces that the video episode is not moderated … As a result, sexual predators and pedophiles have offered a playground on a set.

Does Omegle know that a lot of erotic or pornographic content is circulating? Safe. First, because he has already been detained in 2020 by Apple and Google for inappropriate behavior toward minors. Second, because the home screen displays this phrase: “Quit Omegle and visit an adult site instead, if that’s what you’re looking for and you’re 18 or older.”

And finally because the creator of the site himself declared to our colleagues of BBC that “its moderators had led to the arrest and prosecution of several predators”.

► On Chatroulette, the home screen only asks for one thing: that you activate your camera. No video with your face? No access to the platform. Actually impossible to cheat, you have to show yourself!

If the camera is not activated, there is no way to access Chatroulette.
If the camera is not activated, there is no way to access Chatroulette. (© Capture

If you have access to your camera and microphone, you can go to the next step. Unlike Omegle, Chatroulette requires registration, either via your Google account or via Facebook.

Here again, you are assured of the confidentiality of your data, which “will not be shared with other users”.

Chatroulette requires registration, either via your Google Account or via Facebook. (© Capture

The interface, deliberately minimalist, not to say bare, finally offers you a page divided into several parts: the screen of your interlocutor and a zone for exchanging messages. Not to mention the button that allows you to zap from one stranger to another.

Many showbiz personalities – especially American – landed on Chatroulette in 2010. The hour of glory passed, the page continued to live. It has even become for some thirty or forty a vintage nugget.

However, the site has not escaped through other platforms: pictures of sex galore, suggestive poses, naughty invitations, invitations … Because if it’s important to show your face to pretend to chat, the site is much less careful about what you film once in a relationship with strangers.

Yet beautiful encounters, even virtual ones, are possible here as well. “There are many more men than women on Chatroulette,” analyzes Marie, 29.

Once we’ve skipped ten hairy guys, the first to show up fully clothed, we want to chat with him!

MarriedFormer Chatroulette user

This young salesman who travels a lot has long used Chatroulette to alleviate his boredom.

“Many kilometers and anonymous hotel rooms several times a week, it undermines morale. So I guess I was looking for funny people on the internet. I have very fond memories of marades on Chatroulette. And I have kept two friends from this period of the 2010s ”.

The exhibitionists? “When you are an adult, you fix it. It is for all these children who zone out on the spot that it is dangerous. »

Can we protect our children?

Children and children. Mathis *, 13, admits to going on Omegle regularly for two years, “with friends and for fun”. What amuses them? “Guys touch each other.” It’s always darons! “Seriously, they are not ashamed.”

When asked if these pornographic videos bother him, the teenager immediately replies: “There is porn everywhere on the internet and you can access it super easily at any age!”

Our witness acknowledges it nonethelesshe commits himself “behind his parents’ backs”.

The parents, we interrogated several of them. They have the same concern and the same anger. Anger because their children for some went to Omegle on the recommendation of several influencers on youtube.

“That adults throw children in the mouth of the wolf, it’s shameful,” condemns Laurence, the mother of two children aged 10 and 13, who recently discovered they were already connected to the place.

How to prevent them? Not so easy. It would be breaking an open door to say that a 10-year-old child should not go online alone. In fact, parental control, whether human or technical, is rarely used for many reasons: ignorance, lack of interest or availability, trust …

Reporting the places in question to achieve a strengthening of their access conditions is also akin to a utopia. The rare times when actions have been taken, they have resulted in junk actions.

There is still dialogue and education in the use of the network. Here, too, the intentions are commendable. But we must not underestimate the “social” weight of friends. Many of the young teenagers who answered us have walked through the doors of Omegle “to do as the others”.

* At their request, the first names of our smaller interlocutors have been changed

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