A Disturbing New Phenomenon and How To Deal With It
If you haven’t heard of Chatroulette.com or seen it first hand, the information I’m about to share with you will leave you in shock – especially if you have children.
Chatroulette in a Nutshell
Chatroulette is a website in which you (or your child) are literally matched up with random strangers on the Internet. When matched up, you will be sharing a live video stream with one another using your respective webcams. You can also share a live audio conversation or text chat – much like you see in a traditional online chat room. At the top of the webpage there is a “Next” button. When this button is clicked, the website searches for a “random stranger” (the website’s words, not mine) to connect you with. When the web service finds a random stranger to connect you with, they will be broadcasted live via their webcam. You will simultaneously be broadcasted to them via your own webcam. You can see on the website both the other person, as well as yourself. There are no filters. There are no parental controls. There are no limits. Any child, adult or sexual predator can use this website. They could be wearing anything or nothing at all and doing literally anything when they come onscreen. What you will see is shocking.
I have visited the website only once and for less than 3 minutes. I recorded that visit and have shared that video below. I have not clipped the video. I have not edited the video in anyway (except to significantly blur one of the “random strangers” performing a sexual act for whomever the website randomly connected him with). I wanted my readers to experience the website in an authenticate way without being subjected to the blatant pornography performed by a live, “random stranger”.
Porn in the Classroom
According to Alexa.com, a popular Internet traffic analysis company owned by Amazon.com, Chatroulette is now one of the most popular websites on the web. So where are all of the site visitors coming from and who is using the website? As of today, 12% of Chatroulette visitors came to the site from Facebook. The most common location of a person that is using the website… school! You read that correctly. The website is not filtered out by traditional filtering software used by most parents or schools.
How to Block Chatroulette
Needless to say, the most important thing you can do is to speak to your children and make sure that they clearly understand your expectations and values. But having a back up plan is a must. You will have to get a bit creative to block this website until parental control software catches up with this new phenomenon. The following is the process to follow for blocking a website if you have a PC running on Windows (I welcome Comments to this post if you are familiar with a similar tactic for a Mac).
Windows uses something called a HOSTS file to maintain a personal list of web addresses. Any time a request is made for a URL (website), the HOSTS file will be checked first. You can easily and effectively block access to a website – without any special software – by adding it to your Windows HOSTS file. The process that I will describe below will work regardless of the Internet browser that you, your child or your students use.
Step 1: Go to your HOSTS file which is located at:
C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\DRIVERS\ETC for windows Vista and XP
C:\WINNT\SYSTEM32\DRIVERS\ETC for Windows 2k
C:\WINDOWS for Windows 98 and ME
Step 2: Open HOSTS with Notepad. The default Windows HOSTS looks exactly like this:
# Copyright © 1993-1999 Microsoft Corp.
# This is a sample HOSTS file used by Microsoft TCP/IP for Windows.
# This file contains the mappings of IP addresses to host names. Each
# entry should be kept on an individual line. The IP address should
# be placed in the first column followed by the corresponding host name.
# The IP address and the host name should be separated by at least one
# Additionally, comments (such as these) may be inserted on individual
# lines or following the machine name denoted by a “#” symbol.
# For example:
# 126.96.36.199 rhino.acme.com # source server
# 188.8.131.52 x.acme.com # x client host
Step 3: Directly under the line that says 127.0.0.1 Localhost, you will want to type:
Step 4: Close Notepad and answer “Yes” when prompted.
Step 5: Reboot your computer and attempt to access your now blocked website. You should see a “Cannot find server” or a DNS Error saying: “The page cannot be displayed”.
Without getting into too technical of an explanation of what you are doing, this process basically tells your computer to look for the website on your computer instead of on the Internet. It creates a loop so that your child never hit the Chatroulette website and therefore effectively blocks it. You can follow the same procedure to block other websites as well.
The Internet and mobile phones can be wonderful things with tremendous utility but they do present risks. Talk to your child about your expectations using this Internet & Mobile Safety Pledge as your guide and monitor how, when and who they are talking too online. With disturbing trends like Chatroulette popping up so often, parents and teachers need to be diligent.
Tim Woda is a passionate advocate for protecting children from today’s scariest digital dangers – cyberbullying, sexting and predators. He co-founded KidSafe, is the author of Keeping Kids Safe: A Guide for Parents of Social and Mobile Children and is a frequent public speaker on the topic.
Copyright © 2009 Tim Woda