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Chatroulette: An Internet hub for sexual predators

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Two years ago, a Russian teenager created Chatroulette, an Internet sensation that continues to grow in popularity.

"You can see them and kind of like being in person talking to them," said Matteya Raffelson, a user of the Web chat service.

The site matches people with strangers from around the globe at random and then enables them to use their webcams and keyboards to chat.

There are no fees or registrations, and there's virtually no policing on the service. On any given night, the site has about 20,000 users chatting through their Web cams. As many as 1.33 million people use the service.

"You don't really have to be next to the person. You can be halfway around the world, and you can still chat with them," said Hannah Bradford.

Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said the chat service sounds like an exciting, innovative idea, but most of the encounters are blatantly sexual.

"The dangers are ... it is purely random, unregulated. You go online to have these encounters with people all over the world who you've never seen before," Allen said.

Allen worries that this site is a hub for predators for unsupervised activity, since no sign-up is required.

"It is hard, and they are getting to the age ... I'm really paranoid about it," said Charlie Sibert, who is a father of underage children.

According to a survey performed by RJMetrics, approximately one in eight feeds from Chatroulette are involved in "R-rated" content: obscene chat with no penalties.

Some parents fear the consequences of a website where all that's needed to participate is a webcam. The Sibert family says they try their best to be as vigilant as possible, but admit it is difficult.

"She puts a lot of pictures and things on," said Gladis Sibert, a mother. It gives me chills just to think about that. [I] try to watch her as much as I can."

Experts recommend installing a computer program that monitors children's activity on the Internet, positioning the computer screen so it's in plain view, and keeping a browser's search history and logs available. 

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