Have you heard of the website Omegle? I hadn’t until a teenager mentioned it in a comment on another article. I’ve also had several requests from concerned parents asking for a review. Omegle is a website that allows you to chat with a random stranger. So right away we have probably answered the question in the title of this post! Omegle is not okay for kids – unless you are okay with your kids chatting with complete strangers. I’m guessing that you’re not.
Omegle has been around since 2008, with video chat added in 2009. When you use Omegle you do not identify yourself through the service – chat participants are only identified as “You” and “Stranger”. From there however, anything goes – certainly a chat participant may decide to give their name, location, age and other personal information.
I tried it a few times by clicking on the link to start chatting with a stranger. The first thing I was asked was “asl” – meaning what is my age, sex and location. I disconnected immediately from that chat! On the second test, I ended up in a brief chat with a young man, a software developer from India. Well, that is what he said but that’s the thing – who really knows?
Another Be Web Smart reader did a test and shared the conversation with me:
Q: is this site safe for preteens?
Stranger 1: hahahahahahaha
Stranger 2: Wow
Stranger 1: send them to me pls
Are teens using Omegle?
A quick Google search helped me to answer this question. A few clicks and I found text excerpts and videos on YouTube of teens sharing their stories of Omegle encounters. One video was a teen girl’s story of how she met up with an Omegle chat buddy in person without her parents’ knowledge. Another particularly sicko video showed how someone scared teens on an Omegle video chat with his face made up similar to the Joker from the Batman movie (R.I.P. Heath Ledger).
Five reasons not to use Omegle
In case you’ve read this far and are still not quite convinced that Omegle is a bad idea, here are a few facts about privacy and how the Omegle service works:
1. The Omegle homepage clearly states that the service is not for those under 13: “Do not use Omegle if you are under 13. If you are under 18, use it only with a parent/guardian’s permission.” I’m guessing that not too many 16 year olds are asking mom or dad for the okay.
2. You can connect Omegle to your Facebook account to find chat partners with similar interests. When choosing this feature, an Omegle Facebook app will receive your Facebook “likes” and try to match you with a stranger with similar likes. This action connects your Omegle use to Facebook, and Facebook friends could potentially see Omegle activity on your profile. (Although you can change that setting – highlighted below – to “Me Only” so that your Omegle activity is not shared).
4. There are two video chat modes, monitored and unmonitored. Using video chat requires that your computer’s IP address is made available to the stranger’s computer: “Omegle video chat requires a direct connection to be made between your computer and the other user’s computer…”
This is the warning received when initiating an unmonitored video chat:
5. At the end of an Omegle chat, users have the option to save the chat’s log and share the link. Therefore your conversation is not really private, and the contents of the chat including any personal information you might share can be sent to anyone without your knowledge.
How do I know if my teen is using Omegle?
You can take a look at the history in their web browser. The shortcut Ctrl-H will open the browser history in Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer and Safari. Then you can see what sites have been visited. Keep in mind that savvy kids may know how to delete their browsing history.
You can also ask them.
How to Block Omegle and similar websites
I was curious to know if the parental control software I use on our family laptop would allow my daughter to visit the Omegle site. We use Microsoft Live Family Safety and her account is filtered to only allow “General internet” websites, and no social media. I logged in to her account (I have the password, of course) and WAS able to get to the Omegle website. Not good! However, Live Family Safety gives me the ability to add any website to a block list. I can log into my admin account and specify any websites that should not be allowed. I did this right away to prevent Omegle from being available to my daughter.
Other services you can try for blocking specific websites include parental control filtering such as http://www.keepmyfamilysecure.com/ and http://www1.k9webprotection.com/, or browser add-ons such as BlockSite for Firefox and Chrome.
To sum it up, I generally think it’s a good idea to avoid websites that include a disclaimer like this one from Omegle’s home page:
“Use Omegle at your own peril.”