When it came out almost ten years ago, Chatroulette took an innovative approach to online forums and chat apps. The idea was to video chat with random strangers and enjoy fun, casual conversations with people from all over the world.
On the surface, this sounds benign and entertaining, but the reality is a bit different. Like other similar chat portals, Chatroulette has become a ripe playground for various abuses. The list includes cyberbullying, indecent exposure, and online scams.
However, the site does try to improve user protection, so it’s not easy to provide a definitive answer if it’s safe or not.
Chatroulette – First Impressions
Surprisingly, the websites UI is almost entirely bare. There are navigation buttons at the top of the screen and two video-chat windows in the middle. The bottom one shows your camera, and the upper one displays the camera of your current chat partner.
Right off the bat, the entire layout looks fishy, especially for the site that’s almost ten years old and has millions of registered users. However, this is not the main thing that raises the red flag. To start hooking you up with other users, the software needs to pick up on your face.
Besides, your face needs to remain in the frame if you are to continue. Although there’s no official comment on this, it’s safe to assume that this solution prevents indecent exposure.
Troubles in Paradise
The main complaint that deterred many users from Chatroulette is the number of men who used to boast their private parts on the platform. To make things clear, Chatroulette isn’t an adult video chat, and the face recognition feature is there to keep the private parts private.
Important Note: Due to its popularity, Chatroulette gave rise to a bunch of spin-off websites with almost the same name. The real deal is at chatroulette.com, and we’ve inspected the safety and features of that site.
To ease your concerns right away, it would be quite hard for a hacker to attack you directly via Chatroulette. But hack-attacks are not the main problem.
By nature, Chatroulette promotes face-to-face video chat, and there’s a lot of free software that can record the conversations. What’s more, some tech-savvy online scammers may set up a video-chat bot and lure unsuspecting users into a fake video chat.
Even if you don’t do or say anything that can be used against you, there’s potential for privacy infringements. Chatroulette recordings can be manipulated and abused for phishing scams or posted across the web. But there haven’t been any lawsuits in the U.S. that involved Chatroulette abuse.
Lawsuits aside, you can do a simple test to gauge the platform’s safety. For example, an extended Google search of Chatroulette may lead you to numerous YouTube and x-rated clips. The chances are that the featured users never agreed for the clips to be posted online. And in some cases, it’s really hard to tell the participant’s age.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
The portal makes it easy for you to skip to another user or stop the chat the moment you suspect something. There is also an option to report a user who violates the rules, and if more people do the same, the user might be permanently banned.
Given the lack of log-in information and other data, Chatroulette probably bans users based on their IP address. It’s great that you don’t need to provide credentials to use the site, but it opens doors for other problems.
Chatroulette used to be quite popular with minors, and there should have been a way to offer them better protection. For example, facial recognition software could be utilized to discern adults from minors and provide two separate roulette streams that don’t mix.
Otherwise, teens and youngsters may be exposed to ill-meaning strangers even if there’s no indecent exposure involved.
Are There Any Safe Alternatives
As indicated, Chatroulette inspired a bunch of other similar portals, and their safety is questionable, to say the least. Some of the alternatives offer different chat rooms, have separate sections for adult chat, or require age confirmation.
That sounds good on paper, but it doesn’t keep you away from the exhibitionists. It’s worth noting that Chatroulette is better in this respect compared to the competition, and it’s mostly due to the face recognition software.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to pronounce any of the competition as safer, quite contrary. The bots that crawl the video feed can be easily tricked, and you can get flashed out of the blue.
Chatroulette – The Final Verdict
It’s saddening that some users tend to abuse the tools that are at their disposal. And it’s one of the reasons many consider Chatroulette unsafe and shy away from the platform. The bottom line is that Chatroulette would benefit from a complete software overhaul and more transparency.
Have you used Chatroulette before? Did you meet someone interesting? Share your thought with the rest of the TJ community in the comments section below.