Is Omegle Safe for Kids? 7 Huge Red Flags for Parents
You've heard of Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter—but what about Omegle? The popular website lets users video chat with strangers one-on-one (yes, you read that right), and it comes with a host of safety concerns. We're talking about potential exposure to nudity, predation, scamming, and security threats… yikes. Here, we break down everything parents should know about Omegle, with tips for keeping children safe online.
What Is Omegle?
Omegle is a free website that's easily accessible through a mobile or desktop browser. It connects users with anonymous strangers around the world, letting them have a one-on-one conversation through text or video. You don't need a profile or login credentials to access the site.
Chances are, this short description alone raises some red flags in parents—and with good reason. "I don't know of any parent who wants their kid to talk to strangers," says Titania Jordan, chief parenting officer of parental-control app Bark.
Visiting the plain-looking website won't make you feel any better. It clearly displays Omegle's tagline—"Talk to Strangers!"—and says you must be 18+ to use the site (or 13+ with parent's permission). It also gives a concerning message: "Predators have been known to use Omegle, so please be careful."
When you're chatting with a stranger, Omegle displays two webcam screens (yours and the strangers) that automatically broadcast video. There's also a text chat that resembles instant messaging. You can end the conversation whenever you'd like, and Omegle will connect you with another random stranger.
Why Do Kids Use Omegle?
Although Omegle was founded in 2009, it has recently surged in popularity among children. You can partly blame TikTok; influencers often connect with their fans on Omegle and share their experiences. Children tend to use Omegle at sleepovers or other group settings. They might be also drawn to the website during the pandemic, as social distancing measures may make them feel isolated at home.
It's true that users must be over 18 without parental permission, but reality is that children don't always follow these rules. According to Jordan, Omegle's warnings are "not an effective barrier. It might protect them legally, but it's not good enough." Plus, she stresses that Omegle doesn't verify the age of its users. There's essentially nothing stopping your 8-year-old son or 12-year-old daughter from using it, as long as they have access to an internet browser.
- RELATED: Is TikTok Safe for Kids?
How Does Omegle Work?
Omegle's homepage offers a few different chat options, though they're not clearly defined. All options let users chat one-on-one with strangers, either through text messages or dual webcam displays. Here's some information about each of them.
Adult: When you click the "Adult" button, a pop-up screen warns users that they're "about to go to a site with sexual material," and that it's only for those 18 and older. (Note, however, that it's entirely possible for kids to still access these chat settings because there's no age verification, says Jordan.)
Unmoderated: Also for adults 18+, this section displays a similar warning: "Because this section is not moderated, you are more likely to encounter sexual behavior."
Video: This section doesn't display any pop-up warnings, and according to Bark, "it's not intuitive that this is the least dangerous way to use the platform." Plus, the "Video" setting isn't guaranteed to be kid-friendly; you could still encounter nudity or other explicit material.
Text: This setting lets users communicate through text-based messages; it resembles instant messaging. Text chatting might appear safer than video chatting, but your child could still encounter scammers and predators. Plus, according to pro-consumer website Comparitech, users can "save and receive a sharable link to the chat," which saves a transcript containing IP addresses, ID cookies, and other personal information.
Spy (Question) Mode: Users can ask a question, then observe two strangers talking about it.
College Student Chat: After entering their student email address, college students are connected with others enrolled in a university.
Before starting a chat, Omegle also gives users the options to specify their interests. Omegle will try matching you with random people who share these interests "instead of someone completely random," according to the site.
7 Omegle Safety Concerns for Kids
Thanks to its anonymous nature and lack of security settings, Omegle comes with plenty of safety problems. Here are some of the most concerning issues.
"It's very likely your child will encounter sexual content on this platform," says Jordan. It could be nudity, sexual acts, inappropriate language, or pre-recorded explicit videos. In some cases, users might try to persuade others (including minors) to perform sexual acts as well.
Omegle clearly states that predators have been known to use the site. Because of its anonymity, a teenager could be paired with an older adult. The adult might take advantage of the situation by "grooming" the child—and this could eventually lead to a real-life relationship. "Children can be sexually abused without ever having been in the room with an adult," says Jordan.
Omegle has its fair share of con artists. According to Jordan, strangers could win your child's trust and trick them into giving out personal information—credit card numbers, passwords, addresses, the name of their school, etc. Naturally, these actions could lead to fraud, scamming, identity theft, stalking, or other safety issues.
On Omegle, children might think their behavior is private. But it's possible for strangers to screen record video chats or save text conversations. The stranger can do whatever they want with these items, such as share them with others, publish them online, or use them as blackmail.
It's easier to bully behind a screen. Strangers might ridicule your child for their looks or mannerisms, and this cyberbullying could have long-term consequences to their mental health.
Lack of Registration
Users don't need a profile, registration, or login information to use Omegle. The site also doesn't verify ages, and despite the warnings on its homepage, kids can still easily access the chatting services. Omegle doesn't have any parental controls or privacy settings.
Confusing (or Enticing) Labels
Some kids might get confused from the different buttons on the Omegle homepages. Others might even be tempted by the "Adult" settings. "Every kid is curious in some way, shape, or form," says Jordan. "It's less awkward to click a link and see what comes up," as opposed to talking to parents about adult topics.
How to Keep Your Children Safe
Jordan says that Omegle is doing the "minimum amount" to keep their users safe, and it's up to parents to monitor their child's behavior online. "We always encourage parents to evaluate what technology and apps they use, and to look at the purpose," says Jordan. She adds that parents should take the following steps to protect their little ones from Omegle.
Talk openly to kids. "You have to talk to your children about [the safety risks of Omegle]," Jordan says. "It's not comfortable because it involves sexuality and predation, but you have to be forthcoming with them." You might explain, for example, that they could see nudity, be groomed by a predator, or accidentally give up compromising information.
Don't condemn sexuality overall. When talking about the dangers of sexual content, be careful not to paint it in a bad light. "If they know about sex, say it's not a bad thing," says Jordan, "Sexual curiosity is normal, but the way Omegle presents it is not healthy or productive for you."
Build up your children. Don't punish your child for expressing an interest in Omegle, because it's natural to be curious about these types of things. "Explain that good kids can make bad choices, and smart kids can fall prey to tricky people," says Jordan.
- RELATED: Is Instagram Safe for Kids?
Take appropriate steps if your child has already used Omegle. If your child has already used Omegle, proceed with caution. Let them know it's normal to be bothered by explicit content they might have encountered. Jordan recommends not punishing them for raising concerns, but offering support if they need it (either through a parent or therapy). "If they sent an [inappropriate] photo or video, get them help," adds Jordan. Involve law enforcement if you feel it's necessary.
The Bottom Line
No child under the age of 18 should be on Omegle. "Parents don't even know this is happening," says Jordan, referring to the inappropriate content on Omegle. "If parents knew [this content] was so accessible, it wouldn't be this way for long. They would press these sites to have more accountability."