I’ve written and talked at length about the challenges that webcams create for parents, as well as the safety and privacy risks that they can create for our children. You may have heard of some of the more headline-grabbing sites, like TinyChat and Chatroulette, but have you heard of Stickam?
Like the former two, Stickam allows their members to anonymously video chat with each other. And if you’re not a member, well, you can just simply watch. Thinking about blocking Stickam on your child’s computer? I don’t blame you.
Video-chatting is performed in one of two ways: by creating/joining a chatroom group where multiple people simultaneously stream their webcam feed, or by “Going Live” and launching a video-chat room where you’re the center of attention as random users watch your live webcam feed. Interestingly enough, there are “live sex” porn sites that use this exact same functionality.
A quick visit to their site and it doesn’t take long to realize that Stickam isn’t a website that has your child’s best interests in mind. And I would even argue that it’s a culturally unhealthy site for your kids as well. The folks at Stickam make a token effort at obeying online safety laws like COPPA by requiring users to be 13 years of age or older, but as we’ve seen on Facebook, your child can easily lie about their age during the sign-up process.
All of that aside, there are a couple of key features on Stickam that I want to point out to parents so they understand why it’s so important to block this website (and category of websites – i.e. video chatting sites) on their family computer and/or their child/teen’s computer. Of course, like with any online-safety precaution you take in your home, these action items should be followed up with a conversation about why you block these types of sites and the rules you expect your child to follow regarding responsible webcam usage, at and away from home.
Searching by Age:
When looking to see “Who’s Live” on Stickam, you’ll notice the sidebar on the right that allows members (and visitors) to search for other members by filtering through a few criteria. You’ll also notice that one of those criteria is age, and another one is zip code, two pieces of personal information that Stickam requires from members.
It’s obvious that this search tool was meant to help people find other people who are in their age range or close to where they live. But what’s also obvious is how easily online predators can use this to find young children. Imagine, a 45-year-old registered sex offender looking through the results that come up when they narrow their search down to ages 14 – 16 within a 5 mile radius.
Stickam takes their video-chat service a step further by turning it into a game called Shuffle. If you’ve read my article on the online chatting “game” called Jailbait, then you’re probably familiar with how this works.
The objective of Shuffle is to earn points and prizes for video chatting with other people for long periods of time, or for chatting with a lot of different people. Basically, the more you chat, the more points and prizes you earn and the higher you rank in the leader-boards. Stickam claims that they have strict guidelines in regard to lewd behavior and language, yet upon trying the game for myself I ended up in multiple chatrooms where naked men were just waiting.
As I mentioned before, video-chatting websites like Stickam present a great opportunity to talk to your children about digital responsibility, online safety and the things that constitute appropriate interaction and inappropriate interaction. This is what you can do:
- Let your kids know that you know these types of sites exist. There’s no reason to rouse your child’s curiosity to go check out the site, so unless they already know about it, it’s not necessary to tell them the name the site.
- Share with them that you know that what goes on in these sites is very often inappropriate, wrong, sometimes illegal and harmful to them.
- Set the ground rules that the family has a “no video-chatting policy”. Period.
- Then take advantage of these family-safety tools:
And if you’re interested in providing further parental guidance for your child or teen, you might find these software products helpful: