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Welcome to the The Cap – our very own recap series of the topics and trends impacting teens and tweens today dedicated to keeping the common parent in the know.
📮 In today's Issue, we cover:
🚩Disclaimer: The information contained below includes the mention of sexually explicit materials involving minors. If you suspect your child is a victim of online grooming or sexual abuse, report it immediately to the police. Have recurring conversations with your child about what they are doing on the internet, the importance of online safety and the dangers of chatting with strangers.
What is it ?
Omegle is a free online chat website that allows users to talk to other people and is specifically designed to allow users to talk to strangers.  It is free to use and no registration is required. Omegle randomly pairs users with strangers around the world in one-on-one live chats via video or text or both. Users are anonymous as the site uses only the names "You" and "Stranger."  Omegle can be accessed via computer, phones and tablets.
⚙️ How Omegle works:
  • Users simply visit, enter a virtual queue and wait for the site to connect them with a random user
  • “You” and “Stranger” are put in a private chatroom where they can text, video chat or both
  • During the chat, users can take screenshots of video chat or use third party software to record a video chat.
  • At the end of a chat, users can save the chat log. Meaning users can share this information with other people.
  • Every time you chat, Omegle will store a timestamp, as well as your IP address and ID cookie
Omegle first launched in 2009, but surged in popularity during pandemic lockdowns when people - particularly teenagers - were isolated from their friends. Omegle has also grown in popularity with famous Tik Tokers and YouTubers making cameos on Omegle, further drawing their audiences to its platform.
The hashtag #omegle has over 11 billion views on TikTok alone.

🚨 Why it matters
Omegle is wildly popular with teenagers today and its ease of use, free-to-use, no registration required and serious lack of moderation and age verification make the platform a magnet for predators and scammers. 🧲 
Age - While Omegle's terms of service state that “persons under the age of 18 may not use Omegle,” there is nothing that prevents a user from entering the site other than prompts asking the user to acknowledge they agree to the age restrictions and terms. There's essentially nothing stopping your child from using Omegle if they have access to an internet browser.
Anonymity and Lack of Moderation - Omegle’s own Terms of Service state that "Omegle video chat is moderated, but no moderation is perfect," and "Users are solely responsible for their behavior while using Omegle." Users have no control over what they may see or hear when first matched up with a Stranger. Users can be connected to criminals and predators. If a user is reported, there's no way to track them down. 
Adult Content - Omegle users can be exposed to explicit and inappropriate content across the platform. One study showed that 21% of the young people surveyed reported seeing sexual content on Omegle. This makes sense when you consider that the user is automatically put in a chat with a Stranger where the autoplay feature automatically opens the video of the Stranger's webcam and opens the text conversation. Stranger’s webcams have shown live sexual activity or pre-recorded pornographic video.
Child Predation - In 2021, a BBC investigation of Omegle found evidence of children exposing themselves and sexually explicit material with minors as young as 7 or 8 years old with parents reporting that their young children were being coerced into sexually explicit activity with older adults on the site. It’s very likely your child will encounter sexually explicit content and in some cases users may try to persuade others to perform sexual acts.
Sextortion - Users have been threatened with the release of personal information unless they engage in sexual displays and acts. Even when not threatened, unsupervised children can easily share their personal information under the guise of friendship. This can lead to sexual grooming and sextortion as well as being hacked.
Cyberbullying - Users have been on the receiving end of harassment, bullying and racism.
Privacy and Security - Users can save a chat log where the person's IP address is saved along with a recording of the entire chat. These IP addresses and videos are often then sold to adult websites, which results in children and teens who have engaged in sexually inappropriate chats having no idea their videos are being viewed around the world as pornography.

🎒 The Cap
Omegle is doing the bare minimum in keeping its users safe, so it is up to parents to monitor their child's use of the platform. With Omegle, there are no parental controls. There are no privacy settings. And unsurprisingly, there is no way to contact Omegle through its website or elsewhere online. 
Here are some steps you can take to protect your children from the dangers of Omegle:
  • ⬇️  Limit your child’s access to the internet.
  • 👁️  Monitor their online activity and keep all devices in a common area of the house where you can monitor their use.
  • 👪  Talk to your child about the dangers of Omegle and teach them not to share personal information with strangers like their name, age, location, email address, phone number or social media handles
  • 🌐  Use a VPN (virtual private network) to encrypt internet traffic and disguise your identity making it harder for third parties to track your activities and steal your data. There are many options available like NordVPN, Surfshark, and ExpressVPN.
  • 🛑  Block Omegle and other dangerous sites using parental control apps. A brief internet search will turn up several great options such as Aura, Bark, and Net Nanny, among others. For Mac users, macOS has its own built-in website blocker where you can customize which websites to block under "Screen Time" settings in "System Preferences."
  • 🐱  Watch Out for Copycat Sites that may seem to be safer alternatives but in fact, are just as dangerous. These include Kik, Tinychat, Chatroulette, Chatrandom, YouNow, Monkey, Duo, Three, and Hay.

☀️ The good news
You’re in the know now. And you weren’t alone if you had never heard of Omegle prior to today. Few parents have…despite most children over 12 knowing about it. Knowledge is power and being aware is the first step in equipping yourself to tackle this specific platform as part of a frightening cyber reality.
Omegle is under fire. And it is forcing governments, apps and other platforms to take action. Several countries are moving to ban the website while governments worldwide are sounding the alarm on the dangers of Omegle. Last year, the App Store and Play Store both removed the Omegle App due to reports of children being bullied, scammed, sexually threatened and sexually abused. However, anyone can access the website on their laptops or devices. TikTok even banned links to Omegle on its own platform following concerns over underage sexual content.
You can take meaningful action now. If you've never sat down and talked with your children about the dangers of online chatting, do it today. And, if you've been on the fence about paying for parental controls or a VPN, reconsider these safety measures as a way to protect you, your children, your family and your home from predators, scammers and the dark side of the web. And, If you suspect that your child may have had inappropriate interactions on Omegle or any other social media platform, take action immediately.
By being proactive and vigilant, you can help protect your children from the dangers of Omegle and other online threats.

"The speed in which you found possible child sexual abuse material should underscore the necessity of age verification on social media platforms." 
- Spokeswoman from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States
From a Community Policing Officer
"Parents need to be aware of Omegle and the dangers that can come from it. It opens way too many doors to illegal crime, sex offenders talking to juveniles and sex trafficking of juveniles. Even if it's sending pictures of the inside of your home and opening that up to people who are wanting to rob your house or break into your home, children don't know any better.”
“Parents, please don't let your children use this site." 
Corporal Kenneth Hibbert Jr., Prince George County Police Department in Maryland

More Sources on Omegle :

Founders of The Common Parent: Catherine Belknap and Natalie Telfer (Cat & Nat)
The Cap Contributors:  Catherine Belknap, Natalie Telfer, Kelly Kresen, Josee Telfer, Cath Tassie and Allie Coughlin
Special Thanks to Officer Hibbert

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