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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Omegle Was Forced to Shut Down by a Lawsuit From a Sexual Abuse Survivor

Omegle, the video and text chat site that paired strangers together to talk, ultimately shut down as part of a legal mediation with a female user who sued the company claiming its defective and negligent design enabled her to be sexually abused through the site.

Omegle’s chatting service was shut down Wednesday, just a week after it settled a court case with a plaintiff identified as A.M. Her lawsuit, filed in 2021, alleged that she met a man in his thirties on Omegle who forced her to take naked photos and videos over a three-year period. She was just 11 when it began in 2014.

“The permanent shutdown of Omegle was a term negotiated between Omegle and our client in exchange for Omegle getting to avoid the impending jury trial verdict,” Carrie Goldberg, an attorney who represented A.M., tells WIRED. Attorneys for Omegle did not respond to a request for comment on the settlement. Emails to Omegle were not returned.

Omegle, founded in 2009, regained popularity during 2020 as Covid-19 lockdowns kept people at home. That popularity was, at least in part, driven by it becoming a place where lonely people could chat and also a place for sexual exploration. But its very design is different from other social apps: it instantaneously paired strangers on camera.

“Virtually every tool can be used for good or for evil, and that is especially true of communication tools, due to their innate flexibility,” Leif K-Brooks, Omegle’s founder, wrote in a note announcing the site’s end. “The telephone can be used to wish your grandmother ‘happy birthday’, but it can also be used to call in a bomb threat. There can be no honest accounting of Omegle without acknowledging that some people misused it, including to commit unspeakably heinous crimes.” K-Brooks’ note did not mention the settlement in his statement, but blamed the closure of Omegle on unspecified “attacks” against communication services.

There’s a flaw in K-Brooks’ argument: The telephone doesn’t connect children and teens directly to sexual predators with the click of a button. Omegle’s model allowed sexual predators to sign on and click through a roulette of people, continuously jumping from one to another until they were face-to-face with who they were looking for.

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