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Stranger Chat: Video Chat with Strangers Privately and Anonymously

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There has been a boom in online instant messenger services that provide free online video chatting with strangers – the roll-call includes Chatroulette, TinyChat, Omegle chat, Chatroulette Bazoocam, Shufflepeople, Airtime video and Google Plus Hangouts. Where did this stranger chat craze come from? What is the attraction of video chat with strangers? But most importantly, just how private and anonymous are these random video chatting sites, and is there anything you can do to make them more so?

Introducing stranger chat

There was always one major problem with traditional providers of free online video chatting sites: you only ever got to talk to people you already knew. Facebook video chat and Skype required two people with an existing relationship to add one another to their contacts lists before conversation could begin. That was fine when it was your cousin's birthday or you missed your loved-one, but what if you wanted to meet someone new online?

Enter the new breed of free online video chatting services: services that facilitate video chat with random people.

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There are already several established free sites and mobile apps which allow you to video chat with strangers. Napster founder Sean Parker's latest innovation is a Facebook app (separate from the in-built Facebook video chat) called Airtime video. This service advertises itself as helping you to meet people you should know. Through the app, you are introduced to a stranger with similar likes and you may then start a conversation anonymously. If all goes well, you can hit Next to open up your identity to your new acquaintance and gain access to other features, such as the facility to watch YouTube videos together.

Also new to the stranger chat market is Google Plus Hangouts (replacing the old Google Messenger video service) – this too allows a Public switch that allows strangers to come over and, well, hang out.

However, both Airtime video and Google plus Hangouts promote stranger chat but do not offer anonymity, and, as other popular online instant messenger and video services have shown, anonymity is where all the fun lies.

The mighty TinyChat is the market leader of free cam sites for video chat with strangers. The site requests that you use your real name as your handle – but the truth of the matter is you will struggle to see a surname anywhere on the site. And with this anonymity comes enormous popularity: TinyChat boasts a user base that recently surpassed 500 million videochatters – many of whom will never know the real identities of the people they meet through the site.

Omegle chat and Zumbl stranger chat services have followed this anonymous chatting trend by openly doing away with names altogether – you set up an anonymous account to chat with random people and only reveal your name if you tell it to someone in conversation. Rather like real life, no?

Well, actually, apparently not…

Part II: What Makes Video Chat with Strangers so Popular

Part III: The Anonymity and Security Problem of Free Cam Sites

Part IV: How to Stay Anonymous and Private While Video Chatting with Strangers

Written by: 
Robin Welles; expats team, internet security team