Experts in digital safety
“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 instill 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 “meet new friends”, read on to learn more about this potentially dangerous website and how it could spell trouble for young users.
Omegle app ratings
Qustodio: 18+ (unmonitored video with strangers, potential exposure to nudity and mature themes)
Apple & Android: Because of its problematic history, Omegle has no app available on the App Store or Play Store. However, if kids are looking to download an Omegle app, the chat service has a workaround on their website.
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.”
Is Omegle dangerous?
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 users can start chatting to others, it’s unclear how much of a difference this version makes.
Is Omegle safe for teenagers?
Accessing chat rooms, and video chatting with strangers through the Omegle chat doesn’t just expose teens to nudity and sexual content: they may be at risk of exposure to predators, self-harm, animal cruelty, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, harassment or hate speech.
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, offline dangers are very real too: 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.
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, users can explore without having to register a username or giving away anything that reveals who they really are. The chatting experience on Omegle could also be a reflection of what adolescents feel are legitimate privacy concerns, where they’re free from watchful eyes or judgment.
Can I make Omegle safer for my kids?
Despite the claims that the “moderated” version is safer, Omegle is not suitable for use for anyone under the age of 18.
We strongly suggest blocking Omegle before your children ever get the chance to use it. Parental control tools like 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.
What should I do if I see my child using Omegle?
If you see Omegle or other anonymous messaging apps, it’s a sign that you need to talk to your kids about what online privacy really means (and what it doesn’t). Some apps to watch for are:
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 this type of site. 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 use a parental control tool of any kind, 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 put in place!