ChatRoulette: The Perils of Video Chats with Strangers

New website ChatRoulette lets strangers watch one another doing — well, you don't want to know

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Dan Fletcher

I spent 15 seconds watching live via webcam as some guy danced around his room in a gas mask while wrapped in the American flag. He was watching me as well, and when he saw I wasn't amused, he danced over to the computer, clicked his mouse and (I can only assume) continued his performance for someone else.

Brief interactions like this are the hallmark of the increasingly popular website ChatRoulette. The site, created by a Moscow teenager in November, ups the thrill factor of anonymous online chatting by adding webcams that put you face to face with total strangers. You don't need a friend request or even a user name to participate; just log on, and the site randomly connects you with one of its more than 10,000 users. Bored by what you see? Click Next, and move on to another person.

ChatRoulette would be a great tool for connecting people who might have never met otherwise, except that there's rarely any actual chatting. And there's no way to return to a previous connection, which is probably a good thing since the site is overrun with horny and often naked people, a reality that makes it decidedly unsafe for work and for kids.

ChatRoulette includes a disclaimer that the site is meant only for users over age 16. It also provides a link to report offensive streams. But there's no virtual bouncer at the door to boot underage participants. And by the time you could report anything offensive, you've already seen way more than you wanted. Trust me on that one.