There's an increasingly popular Web site out there that authorities in Texas claim poses a threat to children. The site, www.chatroulette.com, gives users -- including dangerous sex offenders -- an opportunity to conduct live video chats with randomly selected participants.
Armed with only a Web camera and Internet access, the site's users are paired with a random stranger for a video chat. Neither a login nor registration is required before young users can be face-to-face with a total stranger. Worse, users who simply click "next" are shuffled to a new video chat partner.
An undercover investigation by the state's Cyber Crimes Unit revealed startling results. Nearly half of the randomly selected users encountered by investigators immediately exposed themselves and conducted sexually explicit acts on camera.
In light of the serious threat that children will be exposed to graphic sexual conduct, parents are being urged to prohibit their kids from accessing the site. Although users are supposed to be at least 16 years old, the rule is not clearly enforced -- which means parents' preventative role is particularly important.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott reminds parents to closely monitor their children's Internet activities by using the following safety tips:
Place the computer in a public room at home so parents can monitor their children's Internet use. Do not allow computers in a child's bedroom or permit the use of Web cameras.
Make sure children know never to agree to a face-to-face meeting with someone they meet online and never to divulge personal information to an Internet stranger.
Stay informed. Surf the Internet with children or at least talk to them about the Web sites they are visiting.
Establish ground rules for children's Internet usage, including the hours they may surf and the kinds of Web sites they may visit. Post the rules near the computer.
Separately, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has released ProtecTeens Version 3.0, a completely updated Internet safety program to inform and assist parents regarding the dangers children face from sexual predators and other risks on the Internet.
ProtecTeens consists of a 25-minute video presentation, the AG's Internet Safety Manual, a Parents' Guide to Social Networking Websites, the Internet Lingo Dictionary, the Family Contract for Internet Safety, and information about parental control software.
The new video includes sections covering:
general Internet risks and safe practices;
social networking websites;
online chat and instant messaging;
cell phones and "sexting";
online gaming and virtual worlds; and
"We tend to take our electronic technology for granted these days, but if you think about the devices you use today, and the way you use them, the technology has changed considerably since we produced the original ProtecTeens program in 2005," Wasden said. "This new video addresses many of those changes in technology and includes subjects that were not even on the radar screen five years ago."
A recent study has found that chat sites and instant messaging present a huge danger to tweens and teens.