In terms of the internet and my kids, it’s been an eye-opening week. It started when my daughter’s picture popped up in my Google Buzz account. It was taken in the privacy of her friend’s bedroom at a slumber party. The friend’s mother didn’t know about it. While there wasn’t anything wrong with the picture itself, the idea of these two girls taking pictures of themselves behind a closed door and posting them online increased my blood pressure.

And that was before I learned about Chatroulette.

What is Chatroulette?

As if chatting online weren’t dangerous enough for kids, now they can get connected with random strangers from around the world immediately, with audio and video. Live Science reports:

As its name implies, Chatroulette involves randomly pairing a user with another person online for a real time video and audio chat. As you can imagine, this exposes both parties to a mixed bag of experiences that can range from a group of college kids in Boston looking for a virtual party to lone men seeking a voyeuristic experience.

I decided to log on — and I use this term loosely as there is no registration process. Once users click past a screen that states you must be 16 years old to use the site, they are immediately able to access random “chat pairings.”

It is these random connections that appeal to users. Chatroulette promises the excitement of the forbidden without the physical risk. Because users can click "Next" at any time to exit the chat and move on to the next partner, the assumption is that Chatroulette is safe. It’s not.

When I tried the site I didn’t connect my video or audio and did not interact in any way. I only observed. Many partners, whom I saw because they did have their video enabled, ended the sessions immediately. In a few minutes on the site I saw plenty of teenaged boys staring at their monitors, a couple of older men, one young girl, and a picture of a kitten with the caption “boobz pls”. Not so terrible. But, within five clicks of the “Next” button, I was treated to a man masturbating. Ten more clicks yielded a shot of a man exposing his erect penis. Not exactly the stuff of harmless chat.

What can a site like this — aimed at teenagers — possibly be good for?

Safety Features? Yeah, Right

The creator of Chatroulette, 17-year-old Andrey Ternovskiy from Russia, announced this week that safety features had been added to allow users to report inappropriate content.

Chatroulette's new feature is good in theory, but an automated solution may not be possible. Amanda Lenhart, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project's research on teens, children and families told Live Science:

"I'm not sure we have automated recognition software that’s good enough to recognize objectionable content being streamed live as it happens."

Aaron Kenney, of InternetSafety.com, the company behind leading internet parental control software SafeEyes, says that automated software to identify inappropriate static images is not reliable, and there isn’t currently anything that works for streaming video.

"I don't think we're there yet in technology, and so the only capability is it's allowed or it's not allowed in its entirety."

Hope For the Best, Prepare Kids for the Worst

Sure, you can block the site from your computer, as was suggested by another Parenting Squad writer, and I agree with that. But you can’t be with your children all the time. At some point they will be alone with a laptop. Our goal as parents must be to educate them about what is out there, how the darker side of humanity plays out in unexpected (to them) ways online.

On the bright side, Chatroulette makes me feel a whole lot better about Google Buzz.

For more information about Chatroulette, read our post, "Chatroulette: Social Networking Fun or Predator Paradise?"