Why do teens use anonymous apps like Omegle?

Two teens look at a smartphone.

Anonymous apps like Omegle remain popular among teens despite some safety concerns.

We asked 15-year-old Freya* and 16-year-old Harry* about their experiences using anonymous apps.

*Names changed

Why do you use anonymous apps like Omegle?

Popular anonymous site Omegle closed suddenly in November 2023 following several legal battles and accusations about its content and safety. Anonymous apps are platforms that let users stay anonymous while talking to others around the world. For Omegle, this meant matching strangers up together to engage in conversation.

Freya from Scotland says she used the site and other anonymous apps like Omegle since she was in her early teens. She says that the apps are most fun when she uses them with friends such as when they’re at sleepovers or visiting each other’s houses.

“A big part of the fun is that they are anonymous, and you don’t know what you’re going to see, and it is usually funny,” she says. “It’s a bit like telling each other scary stories or playing truth or dare – you might see something you shouldn’t, but that’s part of the appeal.”

Harry from Northern England says that anonymous apps are a good way to fill time when he is bored. “It gives you something to do, and you can chat with people who have a common interest,” says Harry. “It’s just a way to kill time, really.”

Which anonymous apps do you use?

Both Freya and Harry name Omegle as an anonymous app they enjoyed. However, now that Omegle is closed, they must turn to alternatives.

Freya says that most of her friends are using alternative apps like Kik, Discord or Telegram. “Kik used to be what people would use if they wanted to talk for longer than you can on Omegle, so a lot of people will use that. But I also know lots of people who join Discord servers that are run by friends, or friends of friends,” she says.

Harry also named Discord as an alternative to Omegle. “I play Xbox online, and you can look up the game you’re playing at the moment and find other people to swap tips or play against,” he says.

While Discord doesn’t work the same as Omegle and other similar sites, users can stay relatively anonymous to others.

What are the risks?

Freya and her friends have seen the positive and negative sides of anonymous apps, with adults and older teens sometimes sharing explicit content or trying to scare younger users. “Something that happens a bit is when you chat to someone and they immediately put your IP address in the chat window, or they post your name, and that can be quite scary,” she says.

Freya says that these experiences scared her when she was younger, but now she thinks it’s mostly older kids trying to scare youngsters. “Now, I just click ‘escape’ to talk to the next person if someone is creepy. But I also learned quite quickly how to hide my identity and my IP address by using a VPN,” she says.

Harry says most of his experiences have been positive, because he is quick to shut down a chat if something doesn’t seem appropriate. “Whenever anything looks like it might go negative, you just shut the window. Like, people can sometimes be horrible or rude, or they might do something you don’t want to see or talk about,” he says. “There’s no filter or anything [on some anonymous apps], so I know there’s nothing to stop someone being hateful or violent or showing something explicit.”

While his experiences have been mostly positive, Harry says he does worry about his younger brother using anonymous apps. “Obviously, the sites just take your word for it if you say you’re under 18, but it’s not always true. And there aren’t any obvious filters that stop people from sharing things you might not want to see,” he says. “You just have to be aware of it and try to end a chat if something looks like it’s not going anywhere positive.”

How do you stay safe on these apps?

“I’d say younger people shouldn’t use their camera, and try to use a VPN and incognito browser,” says Freya. “Also, I only use those apps when I’m with friends and we’re having fun, not on my own. If I was talking to someone younger, I’d say never use the camera and turn off the adult mode, so you can only talk to other kids – although people can say they are any age online.”

Harry says that the most important advice for other teens considering using anonymous apps is to be self-aware. “Make sure you only keep speaking to people who are genuinely interested in the things you want to talk about, and also make sure you’re not giving away any personal details,” he says. “If someone does something inappropriate, you can . . . report them to the Discord server, and they’ll eventually get banned.”

Should parents worry about anonymous apps like Omegle?

Freya thinks some of the concerns about anonymous apps like Omegle are exaggerated. “I think parents often underestimate how savvy teenagers are about technology. For younger teens, I think it can be dangerous; but older kids understand how to hide their identity online, and to ignore creepy men trying to scare us, or get your email address,” she says.

Freya’s mum knows that she uses social media and anonymous apps to chat to people. While she doesn’t approve, she does pay for a VPN application to help Freya stay anonymous online. “My mum probably doesn’t know everything I do, but we have a pretty open dialogue, and she talks to me about the risks, and make sure I understand them,” she says. “The rules are always that I use the VPN, I keep my camera off and I only use those apps when I’m with friends.”

Other apps like Omegle to look out for

With Omegle now closed, other anonymous apps might increase in popularity among young people. It’s important to stay on top of your child’s digital life and understand the apps they use.

Along with Discord that both Freya and Harry report using as an anonymous app, here are some others to look out for.

  • Copycat websites or apps pretending to be Omegle
  • Chatroulette
  • Chatrandom
  • Monkey
  • YouNow
  • Tinychat
  • Kik

Learn more about anonymous and decoy apps like Omegle that teens might use.

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