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Mar. 11 2010 - 5:17 pm | 17,716 views | 0 recommendations | 5 comments

Is ChatRoulette breaking child porn laws?

Inappropriate ChatRoulette pic

From Oddee

Anyone following the coverage of ChatRoulette will not be surprised to hear that there are many penises — or peni — to be found there. What you may be surprised to hear is that those penises could get the site into serious legal trouble.

The site now specifies that users must be 16 years of age, though it does not confirm that in any way, i.e., requiring users to enter a birth date before they hit “Play.” Based on my spinning of the ChatRoulette wheel, I have anecdotal evidence that youngsters under 16 are on the site.

Pair that with the fact that the wheel often lands on a naked person — when Web Ecology did a survey of the game, 5% of the users encountered were “genitals” — you’ve got a problem. The site is possibly running afoul of the laws that have developed over the past 15 years to protect kids from seeing porn online and adults from distributing child porn…

The German newspaper Spiegel has the first extensive profile of the 17-year-old Russian high school student who created the site. Due to its sudden popularity, he’s got some moneyed suitors.

Late last year, only 500 people were using the Web site that Andrey Ternovskiy launched. Now Chatroulette gets around 1.5 million visitors daily. With Russian billionaires offering him cash and Google on the other line, the Moscow teenager has to make a decision: America or Russia?

via Winning the Human Lottery: The Russian-American Battle over Chatroulette – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News – International.

But are they going to want to take on the liability that lurks in the chaotic site?

Eric Goldman, a technology lawyer and associate professor at Santa Clara University Law School, suggested to me that the site may run into some child pornography problems.  “It seems like any minor showing his/her private parts via Chat Roulette is producing child porn, and anyone who randomly stumbles across this minor is receiving child porn,” wrote Goldman in an email.

Additionally, there are a number of laws on the books — “of dubious constitutionality,” says Goldman – banning the display of pornographic materials to minors over the Internet.

ChatRoulette would not be protected by Section 230 — the Communications Decency Act, which usually indemnifies hosting companies from the actions of their users — because the Act protects websites from liability for civil charges and state criminal charges, but does not protect against federal criminal prosecutions. Goldman recommends that the site segregate users into “kids only” and “porn” categories to protect itself.

“There has been a 15 year long paranoia about kids using the Internet being exposed to porn, and there are a bunch of laws on the books (of dubious constitutionality) banning the display of pornographic materials to minors over the Internet,” wrote Goldman. Indeed, I remember having some risque conversations in AOL chat rooms as a teen in the 1990s. My friends and I became addicted to chat rooms when we discovered AOL in high school. Having been told all of our lives not to talk to strangers, it was wonderfully liberating to rush headfirst into it online.

A 2000 Newsweek article called the chat rooms “AOL’s Dirty Little E-Secret,” explaining that “no matter the putative topic (TV, movies, Limp Bizkit), most AOL chat rooms inevitably devolve from banal small talk into cheesy pickup lines, and from there into paired-off Instant Message tete-a-tetes and exchanges of lewd digital photos.” Most news coverage from the 1990s on chat rooms focused on their dark side and the dangers posed to children like us. So legislators created harsh laws to protect lascivious kids. AOL responded by creating “kids only” areas. Goldman says ChatRoulette needs to do something similar.

“If ChatRoulette doesn’t do some type of redesign to protect its kid users from the random naked genitalia, I don’t think this is going to turn out well for them or the industry.  If they care about this, ChatRoulette almost assuredly will need to ask its chatters to self-identify as interested in ‘adult’ chatting or not and then keep the two chatting pools separate.  Then, they will need to punish anyone who misreports and goes into the non-adult zone improperly,” wrote Goldman. “This is the kind of ‘protect the kids’ concern that gets legislators foaming at the mouth.”

As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of the site. I think Jon Stewart is wrong about it.

But I am not a fan of the occasional penis I stumble into when I play ChatRoulette — tangentially, can anyone explain to me the appeal of indecent exposure? — and I hit “next” as fast as I can when that occurs. That works for me. But, legally, that may not be a solution for kids.


Comments

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  1. collapse expand

    Is it because I’m over 40 that this is all really creepy to me?

  2. collapse expand

    They need some sort of report or moderator that would eliminate or reduce the exposure to porn on this site.

  3. collapse expand

    So, this site is hosted in Russia then, correct? If so, they’re not breaking any child pornography laws. Even if this was an American site, I doubt they could do anything. The USERS could get in trouble, yes, but not the admin.

    Stop censoring my internet.

    Justin: There is a report feature.

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