internet chat room, child porn, online chat room
Matt Houston/AP

What Parents Should Know About Chatroulette

February 16, 2010 05:30 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
Parents and educators should become aware of a new Web site called Chatroulette, which poses safety threats to unmonitored children.

Chatroulette Mixes Old and New

Chatroulette allows people around the world to see each other and chat via text or audio. Users can click “next” to skip from person to person, never knowing what the next image will be. But this unregulated freedom presents serious safety concerns for children. Violent and sexually charged images frequently turn up on Chatroulette, according to Sam Anderson, who chronicled his experience on the site for New York Magazine.

Despite feeling like a completely new online experience, Chatroulette is actually “a potent combination of programs we’ve all been familiar with for years,” Anderson writes. Yet, the site can feel addictive, partly because of the freedom it presents. “If Chatroulette catches on, it might even swing our collective online pendulum back toward chaos,” he suggests. 

The site has recently begun attracting attention from the tech community, notes Bobbie Johnson in The Guardian. Like Anderson, Johnson notes Chatroulette’s distinctly understated, even old-fashioned, appearance, and says his experience on the site “was creepy, overwhelming and disturbingly addictive.” The site’s inexplicable “appeal” could be that “it connects back to a time when the web really was uncharted territory.”

Background: Founder of Chatroulette

The New York Times was the first to reveal the creator of Chatroulette, 17-year-old Andrey Temovskiy of Moscow. Temovskiy says his intention was only to create a fun site for his friends. “I was and still am a teenager myself, that is why I had a certain feeling of what other teenagers would want to see on the Internet,” Temovskiy said in an e-mail to the Times. The e-mail is posted in its entirety on the Bits blog.

Soon after, Fred Wilson of A VC blog wrote, “I think we’ll reach out to Andrey and offer him a visit to NYC.” Wilson admitted he was unsure of whether to invest in Chatroulette, but noted that Temovskiy “reminds me of many great young entrepreneurs we’ve worked with and his story sounds so familiar.” Wilson also referenced several crucial points from Temovskiy’s e-mail, including that the young Russian is “not sure what Chatroulette is any more.”

Opinion & Analysis: Is Chatroulette too offensive to last?

Dwight Silverman of the Houston Chronicle wonders whether Chatroulette might end up like a similar site called Omegle, which “is still around” but hasn’t become “a major destination site.” Silverman finds Chatroulette “intriguing” but also sees serious flaws. “If you’re easily offended, I’d advise you not to play,” he writes. Although there is a link on the site where users can report “inappropriate video,” Silverman says he’s “not sure how much good it does.” 

Others have likened Chatroulette to “inviting pedophiles into your home,” writes Sheila Lirio Marcelo for The Huffington Post. Many of the site’s users are male, and many post “disturbing things” on Chatroulette, which led one woman to ban her daughters from using it. Marcelo concludes, “even if our kids are older, we still need to check in and monitor their use."

Reference: Internet Safety

A March 2009 survey found that one in five children has been caught using the Internet in ways parents would not condone.

Symantec’s second annual Norton Online Living Report surveyed 9,000 parents and children in 12 countries. While the results show that families “overall are getting more savvy about Internet safety,” the statistics concerning children’s Internet use were surprising. 

“[O]ne in five children admitted getting caught doing something their parents didn’t approve of,” PC World reported, “although the survey doesn’t define exactly what sort of activities.” Parents were also found to have underestimated how long their children actually spent on the Internet, PC World noted.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines