Recipe for Disaster? Chatroulette.com

A new website making the rounds with teens is chatroulette.com – a website forum where users (supposed to be 16 or older) can chat, or talk via webcam (built into most newer laptops, or $15 bucks at a store) with another user selected randomly (that’s the roulette part) by the site.  You don’t get to select who you ‘meet’ by any criteria, it’s just the luck of the draw. If you don’t like the person you can take your chances on another roulette pick.

If that doesn’t sound concerning to you, check out the site – here’s a screen shot. There is no safety messaging, no privacy policy, no validation, nothing that identifies who/what entity is behind the site.

To get started, you click the ‘Play’ button on the top bar, and an Adobe Flash Player message pops up requesting access to your camera and microphone.

That at least seemed logical; the last sentence however went high on my creep-o-meter. Exactly what does it mean to be recorded? Recorded for whom? For What? Where might this conversation show up?

Under the webcam screens you have the option to show the page (and the whole website is only one page) in a different layout.

There’s a link for contacts – which is for the site itself, not your personal contacts. This link provides the message “If you have a question, problem or an idea please do not hesitate to contact us at chatroulette@chatroulette.com”.

And there is a link  called “agreement” which shows their ‘full’ terms of service. The only thing to applaud in this is their brevity.

Spend 5 minutes on the site and you’re likely to find yourself ‘chatting’ with someone who is sans more than a few strategic articles of clothing. An article on the Huffington Post site quotes a mother who asked her kids if she could check out the site.

“Her girls immediately told her, “No way–you wouldn’t want to see some of the stuff that’s out there.” Of course, she and her husband took a look right away. “Literally on the third screen, we saw some guy with his pants down,” she told me. “My husband and I looked at each other and said, ‘Oh my God, this is the most disturbing thing.'”

Consider for a moment your kids are reciprocating in a similar fashion, and recal that participating in Given the teen audience use of this site, I also find the ad links along the bottom to be particularly unfortunate as the search results return options that are inappropriate for minors.

I give the site an F for failing to provide even the most rudimentary of safety precautions, while explicitly exposing users to unregistered users in unmoderated ways. Roulette indeed.

Linda

Feb 24, 2010 – UPDATE: CBS News has now created a segment about ChatRoulette. See the video here: Chat at Your Own Risk

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