Founder announces Omegle shutdown after years of complaints by child campaigners about risks of random chats with strangers
The founder of the free video chat service Omegle has confirmed he is closing the 14 year-old service, after years of complaints from child safety campaigners.
The decision to shutter the service that had been launched back in March 2009 was announced on the website by founder Leif K-Brooks.
K-Brooks wrote that when he launched Omegle as an18 years old, “it was meant to build on the things I loved about the Internet, while introducing a form of social spontaneity that I felt didn’t exist elsewhere. If the Internet is a manifestation of the ‘global village’, Omegle was meant to be a way of strolling down a street in that village, striking up conversations with the people you ran into along the way.”
But that ability to randomly connect to complete strangers via video calls of course began to be misused.
During the Covid-19 lockdowns, the site increased in popularity, particularly with teenagers, and had 73 million users per month according to Semrush.
But complaints surfaced about Omegle because children as young as 13 years old were allowed, until 2022, to use the service.
And this, coupled with no censorship of contributions, lead to allegations from some users that they were encountering racism, nudity, sexual content, child pornography, or predatory behaviour on camera.
Omegle reportedly implemented a ‘monitored’ video chat, so it could monitor misbehaviour and protect people under the age of 18 from potentially harmful content, including nudity or sexual content.
But according to reports, the monitoring was not very effective, and users could often skirt around bans.
In his statement explaining his reasoning for shutting down Omegle, K-Brooks described the challenges of running the website, which included online exploitation of children and attacks on communication services.
“Over the years, people have used Omegle to explore foreign cultures; to get advice about their lives from impartial third parties; and to help alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation,” wrote K-Brooks. “I’ve even heard stories of soulmates meeting on Omegle, and getting married. Those are only some of the highlights.”
“Unfortunately, there are also lowlights,” said K-Brooks. “Virtually every tool can be used for good or for evil, and that is especially true of communication tools, due to their innate flexibility. The telephone can be used to wish your grandmother ‘happy birthday’, but it can also be used to call in a bomb threat. There can be no honest accounting of Omegle without acknowledging that some people misused it, including to commit unspeakably heinous crimes.”
K-Brooks said Omegle “worked with law enforcement agencies, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, to help put evildoers in prison where they belong.”
But he said the fight against crime isn’t one that can be over truly won, and it was never-ending, and the complaints and attacks against Omegle increased.
“Unfortunately, what is right doesn’t always prevail,” wrote K-Brooks. “As much as I wish circumstances were different, the stress and expense of this fight – coupled with the existing stress and expense of operating Omegle, and fighting its misuse – are simply too much. Operating Omegle is no longer sustainable, financially nor psychologically. Frankly, I don’t want to have a heart attack in my 30s.”
“The battle for Omegle has been lost, but the war against the Internet rages on,” wrote K-Brooks. “Virtually every online communication service has been subject to the same kinds of attack as Omegle; and while some of them are much larger companies with much greater resources, they all have their breaking point somewhere.”
He urged people worried about this onslaught against communication services to consider donating to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.