The founder of Omegle has shut down the anonymous chat website over safety concerns.
Leif K-Brooks, who launched the site in 2009 at the age of 18, said Omegle had been “misused to commit unspeakably heinous crimes".
The site has come under fire for allegedly allowing children to speak to adults without appropriate supervision or safeguards. On its home page, the company previously stated that “predators have been known to use Omegle, so please be careful".
More than a decade into its run, the site witnessed a resurgence in activity during the pandemic as people flocked to video chat apps to socialise from home. By 2021, Omegle had 66 million monthly users from around the globe.
What was Omegle?
Omegle was a website that allowed strangers to anonymously connect with each other using text or video chat. Although users could enter keywords to filter people based on specific interests, they were always matched up at random. If you didn’t like the person you were talking to, or what they were doing, you could jump to another conversation.
For better or worse, the site appeared to take a hands-off approach to communication. Omegle was free, didn’t require registration and thrived in part due to the thrill that came with talking to strangers.
The goal was to introduce “a form of social spontaneity” to the internet, according to Leif K-Brooks. But this unrestrained approach produced some unsavoury results. Users complained of being dumped into random chats, only to see people nude or performing sexual acts.
Although it looked like an internet relic, Omegle underwent a renaissance during the pandemic. Teens turned to the site for entertainment and to limit their isolation during lockdowns, while popular online creators jumped on to surprise their young fans. The shock and joy that came with some of these interactions was perfect content fodder for TikTok and YouTube.
Why did Omegle shut down?
On November 8, K-Brooks posted a lengthy message on Omegle announcing its demise.
In the note, the founder explained that despite his honourable intentions to help connect people, the site had attracted a small pool of bad actors. “Some people misused it, including to commit unspeakably heinous crimes,” he said.
In recent years, conversations on Omegle had grown increasingly ill tempered, K-Brooks suggested, adding that the direction it took may have been a reflection of the polarised nature of political discourse in the wake of the pandemic.
“One aspect of this has been a constant barrage of attacks on communication services, Omegle included, based on the behavior of a malicious subset of users,” he said.
In light of the crimes committed through the site, K-Brooks admitted that it was “reasonable” to question Omegle’s policies and practices. He said that “there was a great deal of moderation behind the scenes”, including artificial intelligence operating in tandem with human moderators.
Omegle also worked with law enforcement agencies and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children “to help put evildoers in prison where they belong”. K-Brooks said.
Noting that the mental and financial stress of running the site was too much to bear, he concluded that Omegle “is no longer sustainable, financially nor psychologically".
Throughout its history, Omegle has courted controversy for allegedly failing to protect minors and for not appropriately tackling illegal content.
In 2022, a Canadian teacher who had been arrested for broadcasting child porn on Omegle, pleaded guilty to several criminal charges.
An Australian man was arrested in 2021 after he allegedly used Omegle to try to find children for sex.