Popular video chat website ‘Omegle’ shut after abuse claims

Popular live video chat website Omegle is shutting down after 14 years following user claims of abuse.

The service, which allowed users to socialise with random strangers online, grew in popularity with children and young people during the pandemic.

Omegle’s closure announcement included an image of its logo on a gravestone.

Founder Leif K Brooks said in a statement that operating the website was “no longer sustainable, financially nor psychologically”.

The decision comes as social media platforms are facing increased scrutiny from regulators around the world.

Just this week, Ofcom issued its first guidance for tech platforms complying with the UK Online Safety Act and the communications regulator singled out online grooming.

Omegle has been the subject of controversy, including in a landmark case where a young American accused the platform of randomly pairing her with a paedophile.

The account user was a minor when the incident took place and the lawsuit against Omegle was filed 10 years later in November 2021.

Omegle’s legal team argued in court that the website was not to blame for what happened, and denied that it was a haven for predators.

On Thursday, Mr Brooks said “There can be no honest accounting of Omegle without acknowledging that some people misused it, including to commit unspeakably heinous crimes.”

However, he also pointed, without giving specific details, to the “constant barrage of attacks on communication services” like Omegle by “a malicious subset of users”.

“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,” Mr Brooks said.

“Frankly, I don’t want to have a heart attack in my 30s,” he added.

The announcement also drew comments from users on social media who shared their favourite memories of Omegle. Their reactions ranged from surprise to nostalgia.

The BBC found that Omegle has been mentioned in more than 50 cases against paedophiles in countries including the UK, US and Australia.

Video-sharing platform TikTok banned sharing links to Omegle, after a BBC investigation in 2021 found what appeared to be children exposing themselves to strangers on the website.

Imagery of young children carrying out sexual acts on camera has risen by more than tenfold since the pandemic lockdowns, according to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).

In 2022, the IWF logged more than 63,000 webpages showing the material compared to 5,000 before the pandemic.

Source: BBC

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