Omegle is a website that advertises itself as a platform for “talking to strangers”, but critics say it's a haven for sexual predators looking for minors.
The Omegle website advertises itself as a platform to “talk to strangers”, but to its critics, this digital space is more of a haven for sexual predators targeting children.
The conviction of a Manitoban from Brandon who abused a minor has sparked a lawsuit in the United States. Video chat site Omegle is accused of knowingly connecting adults with children, exposing the latter to live sex.
The website and its operation are at the heart of a $20 million lawsuit brought by an American, known as A.M. She was 11 years old in 2014 when Omegle matched her with a man from Brandon, Manitoba.
According to the lawsuit filed in November in US District Court in Portland, the now 46-year-old had, at the time, coerced her into sending photos and videos where she engaged, naked, in sexual acts.
She suffered for three years from having to respond to the demands of her predator. He terrorized her. She lived in constant fear that he would physically abduct her, says A.M's attorney, Carrie Goldberg, of the C.A. Goldberg law firm in New York.
Carrie Goldberg (left) and Naomi Leeds (right) are two lawyers representing A.M., a sexually abused minor in 2014, in the lawsuit against Omegle in the United States.
In 2018, the man was charged with possession of child pornography, accessing and distributing, and telecommunication luring. CBC is withholding the names of the victims to protect their identities.
A search took place at his home that year and police seized thousands of pornographic images.
Last year in the Court of Queen's Bench, he pleaded guilty to luring and distributing child pornography. He was sentenced in December to a term of eight and a half years, less his time in custody.
The man was found guilty of abusing several underage girls, but it's unclear if he met them all on Omegle.
By voice From a spokesperson, Omegle calls the actions of the Brandon man reprehensible and maintains that the platform in no way condones the actions of such users who misuse the Brandon website. Omegle.
Although Omegle users are solely responsible for their behavior while using the website, Omegle takes user safety seriously, a spokesperson, who remains anonymous, wrote in a statement sent by the company. #x27;corporate lawyer Stacia Lay.
The homepage of the Omegle website allows the user to type in a keyword and choose between video or text chat, with a disclaimer regarding the age requirement for using Omegle.
The US-based Omegle website has a simple mode of operation: by going to the site, one can type in a keyword to find another user with similar interests, or leave the field blank. We can then decide to exchange messages or live videos with a stranger. No additional information such as age or an email address is requested.
CBC tested the site with the keyword Roblox, a game popular with children. The reporter, who identified herself, was matched with a man who admitted to masturbating in front of children. The man was visibly naked and showed only his torso, stomach and legs.
The pending lawsuit in the United States alleges that Omegle is responsible for what happened to A.M. because the website is perfectly designed to attract children without traceability and anonymously.
He profits from the fact that he can deliver children to sexual predators, the complaint states.
Omegle users do not need to log in or enter a username to be matched with an unknown person.
Last month, before a Portland judge, lawyers for A.M. won a victory that could turn in their favor.
Judge Michael Mosman denied Omegle's motion to abort the lawsuit based on a section of law that generally protects large technology companies.
Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act came into effect in 1996 to protect companies from liability for third-party content on platforms like online chat rooms.
When applied today, this law makes it almost impossible to hold a company liable in a situation like A.M.'s, says lawyer Naomi Leeds, who represents at trial.
Omegle says it disagrees with the court ruling that its site, as a product, can be held liable for sharing sexual content and not be protected by Section 230.
Section 230 provides essential protections to online platforms with user-generated content. These protections allowed the Internet to flourish and made possible the creation of a variety of free means of expression, writes the company's spokesperson.
< p class="e-p">Earlier this week, the company filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, saying Omegle is not a product, but a service and should therefore be protected by law. .
When content is flagged as illegal, inappropriate or in violation of Omegle policies, the user's IP address is banned, depending on the spokesperson.
The company says it moderates chat sessions and sends screenshots to US child protection authorities.
The Canadian Center for Child Protection, located in Winnipeg, searched its files for the year 2021. It discovered 170 videos from Omegle showing children under the age of 15 and distributed on the underground web.
The underground web is set up to ensure the anonymity of users, making them harder to spot.
Omegle, which was launched in 2009, has been in the crosshairs of the Canadian Center for Child Protection since 2011, says a lawyer for the organization, Monique St. Germain.
By searching Canadian court cases, CBC found eight cases involving Omegle and most involved child sexual exploitation.
With information from Caroline Barghout and Kristin Annable