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May 15, 2014

Omegle app encourages chats with strangers

Emily Lawrenson

Emily Lawrenson

Qustodio Writer

Tips to help your child stay safe during the back to school period

“Chat with random strangers online – it’s fun!” proclaims the home page of Omegle, contradicting the stranger danger advice every parent (ever) has tried to instil in their child while surfing the internet. If you’ve never heard of Omegle, that welcoming sentence probably tells you everything you need to know, but if your child wants to use Omegle to talk to strangers, read on to learn more about this potentially dangerous website and how it could spell trouble for young users.

Qustodio’s Digital Safety Guide to Omegle

Qustodio: 18+, unmonitored video with strangers, potential exposure to nudity and mature themes. 

Common Sense Media: 18+

What is Omegle?

Omegle is a website offering free online chat with anyone, anywhere in the world, without the need to register. The platform was created by a teenager themselves – 18-year-old Leif. K Brooks launched the site in 2009, initially with just text chat, followed by video chat in 2010. Speaking to the New York Times in early 2009, Brooks explained the goal of Omegle was “to create a new kind of association: anonymous interaction with a stranger that complements existing social sites and helps people broaden their horizons.”

While the site’s initial intentions may have been innocent, the anonymous chats with random strangers didn’t stay clean for long. Total anonymity, with no usernames or personal information associated with the Omegle platform, meant conversations usually took on a mature or sexual nature, right from the get-go. 

To combat this, Omegle offers a “moderated” version, and an 18+ only version, but with the moderated section being difficult to monitor, and the 18+ section needing no verification at all before a chat is set up, it’s unclear how much of a difference this version makes. Video chatting with strangers doesn’t just expose teens to nudity and sexual content: because they can’t control what is on the other end of the screen, they may be at risk of exposure to predators, self-harm, animal cruelty, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, harassment or hate speech.

Is there an Omegle app?

Omegle is currently unavailable to download as an app on the both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, but Omegle offers a workaround on their website, where an app version of Omegle can be downloaded – with limited capabilities.

Why are teens attracted to using Omegle?

Teenagers are naturally curious, so themes such as mature content, alcohol, and violence may actually not be so much of a deterrent for them. Hiding behind anonymity, they can explore without having to register a username or giving away anything that reveals who they really are. Chatting to strangers on Omegle could also be a reflection of adolescents’ (legitimate) privacy concerns, where they’re free from watchful eyes or judgment.

Is Omegle safe for my child?

Despite its community guidelines stating “nudity, pornography and sexually explicit conduct and content are prohibited” on the moderated version of the service, Omegle is a site that allows users to have private conversations with strangers about anything they like, and this often includes sex, drugs, and violence. Although you can stop a chat any time you want, many users ask for their chat partner’s age, sex, and location before beginning a conversation, which means younger users could be at risk of giving away private information.

In fact, the dangers are real: in 2014, two teenage girls met with a 21-year-old man after chatting through Omegle. The man, Casey Chinn, took them to his home in his car and sexually assaulted them both. Bottom line – anyone can use Omegle, and the anonymity makes it the ideal place for predators to hide. 

What can I do to make Omegle safe for my kids?

Despite the claims that the “moderated” version is safer, the very nature of the platform means Omegle is not suitable for use for anyone under the age of 18. We strongly suggest cutting teenagers off at the source, and blocking Omegle before they ever get the chance to use it. Qustodio can block individual websites like Omegle, meaning your child is safe to browse the internet without being exposed to mature content or putting themselves at risk. 

If you see Omegle or other anonymous messaging apps on your teen’s phone or tablet, it’s a sign that you need to talk to them about what online privacy really means (and what it doesn’t). Try not to make them feel ashamed of their curiosity – it’s a natural part of growing up, and they likely don’t have ulterior motives for exploring websites such as Omegle. However, make it clear that nothing sent via website, chat forum, or even text message is ever truly private

Discuss your concerns about cyberbullying, sexting, and online predators, and the risks your teenager is running simply by connecting to Omegle. If you have used a parental control tool like Qustodio, let your teen know that any restrictions you put in place are for their protection, not for the purposes of spying. After all, a trusting parent-child relationship is the best parental control you can possibly use!

How can Qustodio help protect your family?

Qustodio is the best way to keep your kids safe online and help them create healthy digital habits. Our parental control tools ensure they don't access inappropriate content or spend too much time in front of their screens.