Video chat service Omegle, which matched random users with each other for video chats, has shut down after losing a key battle in a lawsuit brought by a sex abuse victim.
The move came just days after attorneys for Omegle and the victim, identified only as A.M., told a federal judge they had agreed to settle A.M.'s lawsuit over her abuse as a minor.
She alleged in a 2021 complaint that when she was 11, Omegle paired her with an adult predator, Ryan Fordyce, who coereced her into sending sexually explicit photos and videos of herself.
Her complaint included claims that Omegle's service was both dangerously defective and negligently designed.
Omegle argued that it was protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which generally immunizes web services from liability for criminal posts by users.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman in Oregon sided against Omegle on that issue, ruling last year that the allegations centered on Omegle's design -- meaning the way it matched users -- not third-party content.
Internet law expert Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University, called that ruling “obviously wrong,” adding that matching two users wouldn't cause harm, unless there was also harmful content.
“The plaintiff’s case absolutely does depend on third-party content -- that’s the only possible source of the harm,” he wrote.
The lawsuit hadn't yet gone to trial when the parties agreed to settle.
Leif K-Brooks, who founded Omegle in 2009 at the age of 18, posted this week that operating Omegle was “no longer sustainable, financially nor psychologically.”
“Virtually every tool can be used for good or for evil, and that is especially true of communication tools, due to their innate flexibility,” he wrote. “The telephone can be used to wish your grandmother 'happy birthday,' but it can also be used to call in a bomb threat.”