When everyone suddenly started noticing Chatroulette a month or so ago, a lot of the early, excitable commentary centered around how the anonymous, ADD blitz of introductions brought us back to the Wild West days of the ’90s Internet, when chatrooms reigned supreme, strangers could really be strangers and no one knew you were a dog. Also: guys’ wangs.
So much for all of that: Chatroulette Map, a new web-based project, pulls IP addresses and images from Chatroulette to map user locations with alarming specificity. Especially if you’re in a big city, you can actually chart logins and pictures with an alarming level of detail.
The key to Chatroulette Map is that Chatroulette isn’t actually as anonymous (or, dare we say, as elegantly crafted) as many of its early boosters had thought. Chatroulette handles only a portion of user interactions behind-the-scenes, and the rest is done by peer-to-peer links, presumably to save bandwidth: these make it possible to pull IP addresses. From there, Chatroulette Map uses IP geolocation (which is relatively common) to pinpoint locations.
From the site FAQ:
Q: Is this legit or are you randomly placing images?
A: Photo placement is as legitimate as IP -> geocoords results were able to produce. All images are captured by us.
Q: How does it work?
A: Chatroulette utilizes Adobe’s Stratus platform as a means of reducing their bandwidth costs while providing video services.
Chatroulette mearly handles the behind the scenes handshakes involved in making two clients connect, the actual connection however is a peer-to-peer link between the two users.
When social Internet scholar danah boyd first wrote about Chatroulette, she went with the rather counterintuitive tack (counterintuitive, at least, by what the press was saying about it at the time) that “there’s only so much you can hide” on Chatroulette; she may have been more right than anyone knew.
Chatroulette Map isn’t using their power for evil, though we suspect that it’s only a matter of time before some /b/tard with programming experience creates a Chatroulette Map-like program to report the identity of every naughty Chatroulette user to their bosses and spouses — It anonymizes some personally identifiable information, and you can request to be taken off it. At that, one of the more interesting things about Chatroulette Map is that by far most of the people it scoops from Chatroulette are just regular people hanging out, not costumed trolls or exhibitionists.