Launched in 2008, Omegle it was a website for chat with strangers which has found new life during the Covid-19 pandemic. The site’s slogan was “Talk to Strangers!”, literally “talk to strangers” and was born as a platform for start chatboth video and text, with randomly selected users from all over the world.
To access the chat it was not necessary to register, thus guaranteeing the anonymity of those who frequented it.
Omegle was available to users aged 13 and over, but adult supervision was required for anyone under 18. If on the one hand, in fact, it allowed us to make new friends from each country and could be used to improve the conversation in a foreign language and start discussions with those who share their interests, on the other there was no shortage privacy risks, especially minors. Adults with bad intentions could hide behind anonymity to use the chat for illicit purposes.
Precisely for these reasons, the Omegle site closed on Wednesday 8 November. By accessing the site at this time, you can exclusively view the closure announcement from the founder, known as Leif K-Brooks: in the statement he acknowledges the use of the site for criminal activities, explaining that the management of Omegle is no longer sustainable both from a financial and psychological point of view, due to the criticism and incorrect behavior of a small minority of users.
Omegle: how it worked
Omegle offered users a chat room virtuale which allowed you to speak completely anonymously with people from all over the world. The pairing of users in chat was completely random and they were referred to as “Tu” e “Foreigner”. To encourage conversation, it was possible to select one’s interests so that in the random choice of the stranger with whom we could chat about topics that interested both of us. You could choose to start chats only text, video o both.
The platform guaranteed total anonymity, unless the user decided to provide personal information during the conversation.
Access to the site did not require registration, but chat users had to a minimum age of 13 years. Just in case they were under 18yearsOmegle required adult supervision during conversations.
After connecting to the site Omegleneeded select the language where you wanted to chat and, if you wanted, insert your own interests in the appropriate space. Then you had to choose between Text to start text chats, or Video to start video chat. Using the platform was simple and intuitive, after these steps you were randomly paired with one “Foreigner” and we could start talking.
In the text chat the function “Indicator light”: a third user could connect to the chat between two people and ask users to discuss a particular topic, ask questions and view the answers. But the speaker couldn’t know whether it was the spy writing, or the stranger in the chat. Omegle was available on PC and there were several apps, even if unofficial, that allowed you to access the chat.
Omegle: the risks for privacy and minors
Both text and video chats they were not moderate: this means that anyone could access it and start writing content of any kind. The same goes for videos, with the risk of finding yourself faced with images with explicit content. Omegle it therefore offered no type of protection or moderation. In the case of minor userswas limited to a banner that warned before starting the chat that in order to use the platform it was necessary to be supervised by an adult at home.
Any child or teenager could therefore connect simply by ticking an acknowledgment box, without any security.
Omegle then warned users, especially minors, that the chat could be used by other strangers for explicit content of a sexual nature. In addition to the disclaimerHowever, there were no ways or instructions to report if other users were using the chat in an unsafe manner or for other purposes. This represented a risk especially for children, who were exposed to online bad actors and inappropriate content.
Even if the chat was born as a way to find new friends, the total anonymity of the users has made it a perfect virtual square for illicit purposes and above all for lure children and adolescentswho may have naively shared their name, age or position, thus exposing themselves to real risks even offline. The site did not offer any kind of moderation or settings parental controltherefore parents would have to supervise its use or, possibly, use special apps to control the activities of the little ones at home, inserting it among the websites that they are not allowed to access.