The Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P) wants to make parents aware of an increased number of reports about Omegle, a website that enables randomized video and text chats between users.
Omegle’s tagline is self-explanatory; people visit the site to “Talk to Strangers.”
The site randomly pairs anonymous users in one-on-one chat rooms without asking for any identifying information. Users can enter into text chats, or video chats that combine video and chat functions.
On average over the past year ending June 2023, Cybertip.ca - Canada’s tipline for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children has received a report about Omegle every two days1. Compared to 2021-222, reports have risen by 122%; compared to 2018-193, reports have increased by 397%.
Of the 180+ reports, 120+ involved concerns about someone communicating with a child for a sexual purpose through Omegle. The remaining reports were about users allegedly sharing child sexual abuse material through the platform.
Several reports to Cybertip.ca explained that Omegle users requested and obtained information to connect with the youth outside of Omegle, such as their social media username or their phone number. Based on these and other Cybertip.ca report information, it appears users are meeting youth on Omegle then moving the communication to a different platform.
What are the risks parents should be aware of?
While users can report any sexual violence they experience on Omegle, reporting is not that easy to locate. C3P analysts could not find any buttons to report to Omegle in text chats, video chats, and unmoderated video chats.
Users have to first visit the site’s landing page and review the Community Guidelines. In the fourth paragraph of the Community Guidelines, users are directed to email firstname.lastname@example.org and include “Omegle-Safety” in the subject line to report concerns. These instructions are followed by this statement: “While Omegle is not responsible to you as a user for enforcing these Community Guidelines, reports of violations are helpful to Omegle.” This statement leaves the impression that reporting may not result in action.
That said, Omegle does state that they ban users temporarily or permanently if they are inappropriate or harmful. C3P analysts could not find details on Omegle’s website about the process Omegle follows before banning users.
Lack of age verification
While Omegle introduced a new 18+ age minimum to use their site nine months ago4, youth can access the website by clicking three buttons and saying they over 18.
Omegle is a website and accessible without restriction from any device with a web browser, unlike an app in a mobile app store which may restrict downloads based on the age of the user.
Exposure to harmful content
Omegle notes that “Video is monitored,” but does not provide further information about what it monitors or how, or its moderation processes. Users can choose to enter the “Unmoderated section” if they check a box, acknowledging this portion of the website is unmoderated.
Whether in the monitored or unmoderated section, exposure to sexual content can occur. For example, Omegle displays ads for pornography websites, “cam sites”5, and other sexual services. Also, links to adult pornography can be sent by strangers in text and video chats.
While visiting Omegle, C3P analysts on the platform were sent links to 18+ websites in text chats, shown a still advertisement for a pornographic website through video chats, and encouraged to navigate to different platforms to “continue conversations.”
C3P analysts also found on the “monitored” text and video chats, users may still be exposed to sexual content, which includes being asked sexual questions, being sent links to content displaying sexual acts such as masturbation, and encouraged to engage in sexual acts.
Users targeting youth
As on many other social media platforms and live streaming services, Omegle users have the opportunity to groom youth, and manipulate youth into sharing private information and sending intimate images and videos. Any image or video sent by youth can be captured as a screenshot or video, putting youth at risk of sextortion.6
Parents can help mitigate risk online. Here’s how:
Block the website from devices your child accesses
- Omegle is not intended for children and there are no parental control settings on Omegle that you could enable to make the site safe for youth to use. You can block the website completely. These settings will be different for each browser, but steps can be found here.
Talk to your kids about the risks they face online:
- Explain that Omegle has a minimum age requirement of 18 years old, and does not have safety features intended to protect youth from seeing sexual or violent content.
- Talk to your youth about the risks of video chatting, including that anyone watching can capture a screenshot or video without them knowing. For tips on getting the conversation started around chatting online, visit the risks page on ProtectKidsOnline.ca™.
- Encourage your kids to talk to you about weird or uncomfortable situations they encounter online. Emphasize that it is never too late to come to you for help, even if they feel like they have made a mistake.
If you see, read, or hear anything sexual from an adult towards your child online, report it to Cybertip.ca or law enforcement.
- 1 Report numbers are measured between July 1, 2022 – June 30, 2023 ↩
- 2 July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022 ↩
- 3 July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019 ↩
- 4 Omegle changed their age restrictions on October 6, 2022. Prior to October 2022, Omegle stated on their landing page: “You must be 18+ or 13+ with parental permissions and supervision to use Omegle.” ↩
- 5 Usually a website where people can live stream themselves, and may include users engaging in sexual acts. ↩
- 6 Sextortion involves individuals coercing youth into sending sexual images or engaging in sexual acts via a camera-enabled device. These individuals typically then blackmail the youth by threatening to distribute the sexual content if the youth does not provide more sexual content or pay money. ↩