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Chances are you've heard of Chatroulette, the clever website that pairs users up for random video web chats. It's one of the hottest websites on the internet right now.

It reportedly receives upwards of 500,000 visits each day and its creator, Andrey Ternovskiy, a 17-year-old high school student in Moscow, is now being courted by some of the world's most recognizable technology investors, including Russia's DST, which owns stakes in hot American social networking companies like Facebook and Zynga.

Chatroulette's appeal isn't all that mysterious. Participants find themselves chatting with random strangers from around the world. When one participant wants to move on, he or she simply clicks 'Next' and is connected with a new random stranger. The potential entertainment value is obvious, and in many cases, for better or worse, Chatroulette delivers 'interesting' experiences.

Yet the Chatroulette fun could be coming to an end thanks to the site's mainstream popularity. A new website, Chatroulette Map, shatters any illusion that participation in Chatroulette is anonymous. Because the computers of Chatroulette participants are connected directly, it's possible to identify the IP address of another participant. Chatroulette Map is taking advantage of this to build a geolocated database of Chatroulette participants. Chatroulette Map plots its data on a Google Map, and for each participant, a photo and the actual IP address of the participant are displayed.

With this publication of this data, determining the real identity of any Chatroulette participant listed on the site is not only possible, but probably relatively easy for someone sufficiently motivated. Even more importantly, the method by which Chatroulette Map collects the data it displays is one that any geek with a minimal amount of tech savvy can replicate.

The privacy and security implications of this are obvious. The fact that the average internet user probably doesn't know what an IP address is or how it can be used only makes the situation worse, as individuals who may otherwise be inclined not to participate join the fun not knowing that they could be identified and tracked down. Investors looking at Chatroulette as a potential investment would certainly be wise to look at the potential legal risks here, and the significant costs that might be required to change Chatroulette's infrastructure to protect the privacy of participants.

Of course, in the overall scheme of things, as we've seen on social networks like Facebook and MySpace, many individuals are more than comfortable sharing very personal information online. But users of social networks can generally limit who sees what, and their IP addresses aren't made available. On Chatroulette, participants are far more likely to be under the impression that they're truly anonymous and once they click 'Next', that's the end of it.

The question now is: as this impression gives way to reality, will the bored and intrigued who are drawn to Chatroulette decide to click 'Next' on Chatroulette itself?

Patricio Robles

Published 11 March, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2381 more posts from this author

Comments (17)

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jonathon

this is hilarious. i just identified a real pervert at College Avenue, Maidstone in Kent (UK). i may pop round his house and ask him to kindly put it away

over 6 years ago

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Paul Coffey

It may be new and riske, but I see in this week's Advertising Age that French Connection are running a dating competition on it:

http://adage.com/globalnews/article?article_id=142741

Very brave move but something that I think works for them as a brand.

Paul

over 6 years ago

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Jim Wells

Yes but this chat roulette map is done by IP address therefore you cannot find the exact address of people on it? Only the general area...

over 6 years ago

Stephen O'Brien

Stephen O'Brien, MD at CIP Ltd

So who owns the right to use the IP address? 

I was just posting a reply to Harvey Sarjant's post about Behavioural Targeting, but the IP issue is at the heart of this Chatroulette post too.

This post looks at recent US/UK developments http://bit.ly/CIP_privacy

Stephen O'B

over 6 years ago

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Chat Roulette

This gives the pervs access to the boy or girl they just talked to. This map works both ways and could actually be worse than deterring the "jerk offs."

over 6 years ago

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Paul

Your online communications leave a trail, whether it's easy to find or not. In comparison to lots of other sites, CR's weirdness seems to encourage users to do screen shots and video captures. The pictures were always there but now CR Map now lets people potentially be identified or located. I wonder how much it will really change user behavior.

over 6 years ago

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Funny koozies

Absolutely! I just want to get to the point where I'm booking more than one commercial per year so that I can use that money to pay the bills vs. hustling from one day job to the next.

over 6 years ago

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anonymous

It's funny how Omegle is a spin-off of anicechat.net and ChatRoulette a spin-off of Omegle! I think anicechat.net deserves some respect, as it was the first. Create a facebook group and spread the truth, anyone?

over 6 years ago

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Annabel

Iam 17 years old and iam a recent user of chatroulette. I dont think chatroulette is any harm at all. Yes there is nudity and old men, but as long as you dont showpeople anything, or give out any personal information you'll be fine. Maybe adding a sign up box could help? As there is a age limit and young teenagers regulary seem to go on it. I think chatroulette is a innapropiate website, but i do think it is a clever idea and it's fun to use for when friends are round. Please do not ban this website. Maybe changing a few things could do it? But dont ban! (:

Thankyou.

about 6 years ago

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Bangalow Accommodation

Privacy issues would be my main concern, although good to see a 17 year old's unbridled creativity take the world by storm, and to see him now courted by big companies for his software  - awesome.

about 6 years ago

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klicken

Wahrhaftig ein super Kommentar. Ich werde econsultancy.com häufiger lesen ;)

over 5 years ago

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Sizzling

Chatroulette is such a sick place... one should really avoid all the perverts there"!

over 5 years ago

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Fritz Meyer

It's funny how Omegle is a spin-off of anicechat.net and ChatRoulette a spin-off of Omegle! I think anicechat.net deserves some respect, as it was the first. Create a facebook group and spread the truth, anyone?

about 5 years ago

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novo

ein richtig geile post...der hammer...

almost 5 years ago

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Novoline Spiele

Klasse ...Genialer Post ;-) Gut gemacht und weiter so ;-)

over 4 years ago

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Casinopirat

Hammer ..Gute sache genau so ist es ....und weiter so , viele grüße ;-) Casinopirat

over 4 years ago

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Mikel

Some guy took a pic of me and showed me some card and told me he was going to have people at my house tommarow he lives in CA and I live in FL is this possible?

almost 4 years ago

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