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Omegle faces legal action after it matched a child with a sexual predator

Section 230 does not safeguard the Omegle matching system

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Omegle faces legal action after it matched a child with a sexual predator

Omegle is facing a lawsuit after its matching algorithm connected an 11-year-old girl with a guy who then sexually abused her. A district court in Portland, Oregon, ruled that the company’s technology was not covered by the legal shield that protects much user-generated content. The case isn’t over yet. But it opens the door to additional charges based on how a platform structures its services.

The service provided by Omegle had flaws and was misleading

The legal complaint, which was filed late last year, claims that Omegle’s service was flawed and misrepresented. It’s an approach that is frequently unsuccessful in court, including with Grindr in a harassment lawsuit, primarily because of the legal safeguards provided by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. However, this time, Judge Michael Mosman found that the case focused on features explicitly created by Omegle as opposed to user expression on the platform.

According to Mosman, “Omegle could have satisfied its alleged obligation… by designing its product differently, for example, by designing a product so that it did not match minors and adults.” Further, he wrote, “What matters for purposes of those claims is that the warnings or design of the product at issue led to the interaction between an eleven-year-old girl and a sexual predator in his late thirties.” That was independent of the actual content communicated by either side, which Omegle could more easily claim was not its fault.

The judgement references a Ninth Circuit decision that established Snap may be sued for its Snapchat “speed filter,” which indicated a user’s speed and allegedly encouraged them to drive at dangerous speeds that resulted in vehicle accidents. Following this Snap disabled the function in June.

Section 230 does not safeguard the Omegle matching system

This does not necessarily imply that either suit will be successful in the end. In addition, the decision dismissed other of the case’s arguments. This included one that used FOSTA-SESTA, a Section 230 exemption that permits litigation based on federal trafficking laws. (The court decided that this case’s legal foundation was state law, which the judge found was exempt from the rule.)

It’s true that the judge’s reasoning gets around the early dismissals that Section 230 often allows, but critics argue that it short-circuits valid claims when applied to frivolous lawsuits. As a result, it bolsters the strategy favoured by C.A. Goldenberg, the victims’ rights legal team that handled this case and the failed Grindr lawsuit (among others). In the event that the decision is upheld by higher courts. It could set up a battle over Section 230 before the Supreme Court – where some justices may reconsider the rule’s application.

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