Why did Omegle shut down? Abuse claims against video chat site explained

Popular live video chat site Omegle is shutting down after 14 years, following users’ claims of abuse.

The site’s homepage now displays an image of the Omegle logo on a gravestone, and the dates 2009-2023, along with a statement from its founder, Leif K-Brooks, and quotes from authors CS Lewis and Douglas Adams.

Its closure comes just days after Ofcom issued its first guidance for tech platforms around the UK Online Safety Act, and amid an open case against the site accusing it of matching a minor with a paedophile.

What was Omegle?

Omegle was founded in March 2009 by Mr K-Brooks – who was 18 at the time – as an online chat service that randomly paired users, and allowed them to message one-on-one without the need to register. In 2010 it launched its video chat feature.

Less than a month after launch, Omegle was pulling in more than 150,000 page views per day, and drew roughly 50 million visitors last month, according to analytics firm SimilarWeb.

The site had a boom in popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly among children and young people. Originally, a 13-year-old could use the website with the permission of a parent or guardian, but in 2022 the minimum age was raised to 18.

Mr K-Brooks wrote in the blog post announcing Omegle’s closure: “I didn’t really know what to expect when I launched Omegle. Would anyone even care about some website that an 18-year-old kid made in his bedroom in his parents’ house in Vermont, with no marketing budget? But it became popular almost instantly after launch, and grew organically from there, reaching millions of daily users.

“I believe this had something to do with meeting new people being a basic human need, and with Omegle being among the best ways to fulfill that need.”

Why is Omegle shutting down?

Omegle has garnered significant controversy, largely surrounding inappropriate and illegal content, including pornography, as well as minors being able to access the site.

The BBC found that Omegle has been mentioned in more than 50 cases against paedophiles in countries including the UK, US and Australia.

The most notable of these cases was filed in November 2021, by an American who accused the site of matching her with a paedophile 10 years prior, when she was a minor.

The $22m case details how the then 11-year-old plaintiff encountered a Canadian paedophile on Omegle who blackmailed her into digital sexual slavery.

Omegle’s legal team argued in court that the website was not to blame.

In 2020, a Canadian teacher pleaded guilty to a number of charges after he broadcast child exploitation material on Omegle, and in 2021 an Australian man was arrested after he allegedly used Omegle to advertise his search for child sex.

In his closing down statement, Mr K-Brooks said: “Virtually every tool can be used for good or for evil, and that is especially true of communication tools, due to their innate flexibility. 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.”

He added: “I have always welcomed constructive feedback, and indeed, Omegle implemented a number of improvements based on such feedback over the years. However, the recent attacks have felt anything but constructive. The only way to please these people is to stop offering the service.

“The battle for Omegle has been lost, but the war against the internet rages on. Virtually every online communication service has been subject to the same kinds of attack as Omegle, and while some of them are much larger companies with much greater resources, they all have their breaking point somewhere.”