Founded in 2009, Omegle is (was) an online chat platform capable of connecting strangers via chat and video. After almost 15 years of activity, the creator and developer of Omegle, Leif K-Brooks, has decided to close the service.
In a long heated post, “the mind” behind Omegle explains the reasons that led to the birth of the application, accessible from the Web and via mobile devices, and the reasons that led to “turning off the taps”.
What is Omegle and how it worked
The idea behind Omegle was to allow anyone to start a conversation with other unknown users, from anywhere in the world. There was no need to registration: All you had to do was access the website or launch the app on your smartphone to start talking. Users could choose to launch only one text conversation or activate video mode for visual communication.
The platform promoted theanonymity: Did not ask for any personal information, such as names, addresses, or contact information. When a user logged into Omegle and started a chat session, the system used an algorithm to randomly select another user to connect with. Omegle used WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication), protocol supported by default by all web browsers to manage video conversations.
Why Omegle Shut Down
Leif K-Brooks, the founder of Omegle, explains that he decided to close his service due to a combination of external factors, the emotional and financial stress associated with maintaining the platform and the constant attacks received from critics and detractors. Many have repeatedly condemned the site for the abuse and crimes committed by some users.
Omegle obviously had a tracking business public IP addresses of users in order to combat any abuse or inappropriate behavior within the platform. It must be said, however, that the failure identity verification of users, for example through universally approved authentication systems such as OAuth, has not made it possible to actively block objectionable behavior or prevent actual crimes.
Even a service like Jitsi Meet had to activate user authentication, precisely to counter the increasingly frequent abuse detected and reported on the platform.
On the other hand, the possibility of using tools that protect theanonymity even on Omegle, it has evidently allowed many of those who used the platform to spread inappropriate, questionable, unsafe or illicit content, unfortunately, to get away with it.
Fighting online abuse is a tall order
The lack of support for end-to-end encryption allowed moderators to review and monitor conversations to identify abuse or inappropriate behavior. AI tools were programmed to detect certain patterns of language or suspicious behavior, while human moderators stepped in to more carefully examine conversations and take appropriate action in case of abuse or violations of the platform’s rules.
In shutting down Omegle, Leif K-Brooks claims that “the fight against online crime can never be completely won. It is a never-ending battle that must be fought and re-fought every day“. What is certain is that the absence of any form of authentication played against him.
There are alternatives to Omegle but the underlying problem remains
There are many alternative a Omegle from which you can choose today. Some of them have substantially similar functioning. For example, there are platforms such as Chatroulette, Chatspin ed Emerald Chat. And it is not difficult, with a simple Google search, to find many other similar services. However, what must be carefully weighed is the underlying problem which remains in all its burning relevance.
First of all, all these platforms are accessible with a simple click. They often don’t apply age checks of the user, in contrast with European provisions a protection of minorsnor do they carry out checks on the identity of each individual who accesses the service.
Authentication with OAuth or the more modern OpenID Connect would sweep away all fears and would finally contribute to putting “clean” services into the hands of users, no longer exposed to any risk of abuse.
Furthermore, the activation of authentication mechanisms would allow the activation of authentication mechanisms cifratura end-to-end, without the need to operate onerous and invasive automated or manual moderations. Many users do not have the problem that i audio and video streams can be monitored, processed and acquired by third parties (or by the platform manager), in the absence of any cryptographic measure. Yet it is a topic of crucial importance.
Omegle was born, as the founder underlines, with the best premises and under good auspices: “random chats could be as long or short as the user chose. If you didn’t want to talk to a particular person, for whatever reason, you could simply end the chat and, if you wanted, move on to another chat with someone else. It was the idea of “meeting new people” distilled almost down to its Platonic ideal“. The internet, however, has changed radically and this change has coincided with a dizzying growth in abuse. The dream of a “corsair chat” with a stranger has probably faded because the dangers, especially for minors, have become unbearable.
Opening image credit: iStock.com/galitskaya