TinyChat – A Direct Line to Your Child’s Webcam

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The Watching Facebook blog has become a sort of online child predator archive. I first came across the site by a parent who wanted to bring the site to my attention so that I could share with all of you. Upon checking it out, I wasn’t only blown away by the sheer volume of the content that was being uncovered, but by the type of content—child porn, sex offenders, pedophiles—you name it, it was there.

It sickened me and kept me up at night thinking about those children’s faces, and asking out loud, “Why isn’t anyone doing anything about this?” I couldn’t imagine doing the job of all those law enforcement officers and devoted individuals who work for the Internet Crimes Against Children’s group and at the National Center for Missing and Exploit Children, who, thank goodness, work every day to catch these people.

While the Watching Facebook blog mainly focuses on issues like child pornography and pedophilia on Facebook, the blogger also points out the patterns of communication/content sharing that can be found on the profile pages and groups that pedophiles create on Facebook. One of the patterns pointed out was a site called TinyChat.com, and how sex predators use it to chat with kids. This is the site that I want you to be aware about.

TinyChat is essentially a free-for-all video chat room service—meaning, everyone and anyone can start a video chat room about anything. Once the room is created, the webcam feed of each user is displayed in the middle of the page and users can chat with each other in real time either via text or voice. If users would rather just join an already-existing chat room, they can do that as well as there are dozens upon dozens of them that are already live.

I created a mock profile and began joining chat rooms that were already in session. First off, the site’s homepage screams “Come on in!” to kids as it’s decorated with kid-friendly sprites and vibrant colors. The sign-up process is very simple, as is the site navigation, making it super easy for kids to get in and start video chatting with strangers.

Of the rooms that were available—and there were about 100 or so—I went into 10. Of the 10, three had live streaming porn from someone’s webcam, and almost all of them had some instance of bullying, flirting, or harassment. In fact, there were some rooms that were purely dedicated to watching a girl take her clothes off in front of her webcam. Even more shocking, a couple of the rooms had grown men exposing themselves via their webcams. And though they were being booted by the chat host, these men were rejoining the chat seconds later.

That said, most of the chat rooms were just filled with a dozen or so kids and teens that were streaming from a computer in their room–usually on their bed. Needless to say, this is a reflection on us as parents. I certainly know we can’t supervise our children 100% of the time. We can, however, require them to use their computer in a central area of the house, or with the door open.

While thinking through a solution to the “problem”, it’d be nice to make things easier for us parents if we had an easy way to disable the webcam. Then again, most kids know how to download new software to re-enable it. Using third-party software to block downloading can be aggravating and not very practical. For example, I found that my teens couldn’t download applications, permission slips, etc.—things that shouldn’t have necessarily been blocked.

As parents of the digital generation, it would be foolish to push the Internet to the side as something that we “don’t have the time to understand”. The bottom line is, we have to be right beside our kids when it comes to their online safety and privacy. To help you accomplish that, there are several really great resources out there—YoursphereForParents being one of them.

David Dennis from Microsoft said it well, “Sensationalism aside, as with all types of digital entertainment and Internet use, parents are the first and best line of defense when it comes to ensuring their kids stay safe online, whether playing games or using the Internet.” And how is this fulfilled? Through education and open dialogue with your kids. Talk to them about what they’re doing online, who they’re talking to, the websites they visit, etc.

In addition, make sure you take a few minutes to learn how to use the content filters on your child’s/teen’s web browser. If they have their own laptop, take it away from them for a few minutes and block sites like TinyChat—there are much safer places where they can network with their friends. With all the privacy, cyberbullying, and sextortion issues going on these days, a free-for-all video chat room is the last place they need to be.

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  • I recently started using tinychat to talk to college friends over winter break. As it goes for a quick, easy way to video-chat multiple friends, it’s very easy and convenient — Especially because you don’t have to download any new software.

    However, it’s not just tinychat.com that has this problem. ALL areas of the web with open chatrooms have creeps and sexual content and flirtations and bullying abound.

    If your kids want to speak to people they know — tiny chat lets you make an instant private chatroom with a URL that you send to whomever you’re looking to speak to. In these chatrooms, people have to be invited, and I would consider it safe. The problem is any web service where children and young teens are exposed to the public in an anonymous, open, setting, such as tiny chat’s public chatrooms. There, people act in ways that are usually inappropriate (i.e. horrifically explicit and sexual) because they can get away with it. Socially, it’s not good for a young child or teen’s developing conversational skills. Safety-wise, anybody can speak to whomever, and young teens especially can be duped into doing something stupid because ‘everyone else is doing it’ on these sites.

    You’re never going to get away from such corners of the internet existing. It’s sad to see such fear from these awful dark places of human existence that have been enabled by and exposed on the world-wide web. But on the flip side, the internet has offered us such tremendously great resources for human advancement and development. I’d hate to see people fear that.

    Find your kids better ways to spend their time online if they’re bored. At 13, I joined an online pen-pal service, and regularly exchanged emails with a girl my age in from South Korea. When it comes to creating connections, I think that was a enriching way to use the internet, and I think if kids are bored an want to talk to strangers, a online Pen Pal service would be a much better alternative to chat roulette. On the better pen pal sites, profiles are screened and profiles are matched by age and interests before the chatting begins, and some offer ways for parents to monitor the emails.

    Most of all, however, I hope that the parents who care about their children realize that it’s not about how much you monitor your kids — it’s how much you teach them. If you have open and honest communication, and discuss with your children proper behavior, but give them space so that they feel trusted, you give them the skills and the knowledge to act responsibly when you’re not standing over their shoulder.

    Best of luck to parents everywhere, keeping your kids safe and smart in what can be at times a wonderful window to the world, and at other times a shockingly scary place.

  • omg, this is all worng wrong worng, she want stop all those pedos unless she blocks the whole website alltogether. people have acctually been putting me off of tinychat because of when they go on cam. it is not always nice for me as i am very young. i hope something is done, for example they are banned from the whole of tinychat if they carry on….

    • It’s very hard to ban all of those nasty people, because they can make just new accounts with new email addresses. You’re right — you probably won’t ever stop those pedophiles completely. That’s why many have decided to take it as their own responsibility to avoid those creeps and find safer websites to spend time on.

  • I’ve never had someone come into my tinychat rooms that I didn’t invite there, and you can set a password on a room if you’re worried about privacy. I believe there is also a setting that keeps your chat room from being listed.

  • the ignorance of this article only morons beleive the pedos. considering im 17 and been going on tinychat for years now ive never had a problem way to pick out the worst why do you just stay off the internet or grow up

    • Seventeen years old is a lot different than ten or twelve. Even some 15 year olds aren’t mature enough to properly realize when something happening is inappropriate. Imagine if a 12 year old girl goes on into a public chatroom for the first time and some older guy PM’s her. She might not know to stop talking to him if some of the things he says makes her feel uncomfortable, because at 12 most girls aren’t used to responding to that kind of pressure. She’s not a “moron,” just not quite experienced or mature enough to know what to do.

      Perhaps you have come to realize this is the last year though, hopefully. And if you got better at punctuation it’d be a plus.

  • I wish YourSphere were available in Canada. Any tips on similar sites open to kids in Canada?
    Something parents need to check is how well their children are protected online in other locations, including: schools, libraries and friends’ homes.
    I contacted our local library, and wrote a blogpost about shocking internet behaviour kids were participating in at our public library. I offered some suggestions re: net nanny solutions. The library informed me they do not believe in censorship, and suggested I might like to provide my storytelling services elsewhere. Ahh yes, our tax dollars at work: providing free access to sexual torture games!

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