LOS ANGELES – Stickam, a website that allows registered users aged 14 and older to participate in unfiltered live-video chats, has percolated concern from child-safety experts and parents alike due to Stickam’s connections to a large online pornography business.
Stickam has reported that it is owned by Advanced Video Communications, or AVC, which is a relatively young Los Angeles company that vends video conferencing and e-commerce services to industries in Japan as well as other Asian countries.
However, according to internal company documents and statements made by Alex Becker, a former vice president at Stickam, AVC is supervised and owned by Wataru Takahashi, a Japanese entrepreneur who owns and operates DTI Services, an immense network of websites offering live sex shows via webcam.
Scott Flacks, Stickam’s vice president for marketing, said, “AVC was one of four separate divisions managed and owned by Mr. Takahashi, one of which includes DTI Services and the pornography companies.” Flacks went on to say AVC operated independently of the pornography sites.
Becker has alleged that not only does Stickam share office space with the adult websites, but also employees and computer systems. Furthermore, the adult sites apparently employ the same video technology as Stickam in order to connect paying customers to performers in live one-on-one video-chat sessions.
Becker said he soon discovered Takahashi’s companies leased first-class office space in several downtown Los Angeles skyscrapers, such as Macy’s Plaza, Sanwa Bank Plaza, and One Wilshire. According to the properties’ leasing agent, the floors are leased for an astounding $35 to $37 per square foot, which is considerably more expensive than some office spaces available in Southern California.
Stickam, which claims to be a free site, does not offer advertising and does not appear to have earned any recurring revenue during its two-year existence, although the company has encouraged media companies to use its site for promotions.
Becker said a running tally on a whiteboard indicated that DxLive was bringing in around $220,000 a day and that he witnessed DxLive performers being educated on the 61st floor of the U.S. Bank Tower in matters surrounding responses to individual customer requests. Flacks categorically disputed the claim but did recognize that DxLive has some office space in the U.S. Bank Tower.
Becker recently left Stickam after a four-month tenure and felt obligated to speak out about the companies’ lack of protection for younger users.
“The workers at Mr. Takahashi’s companies only know how to conduct an adult web site,” Becker said. “They don’t get it or care that there are predators on the Internet.”
Becker also claims he observed Stickam employees deleting thousands of e-mail messages sent to the company’s customer service and abuse-complaints section, without reading or responding to them.
Flacks continued to deny Becker’s claims, stating the site was not negligent in protecting its users or that unread e-mail messages from users had been deleted. “We take security issues very seriously and have a dedicated team to monitor and eliminate improper material,” he said. “Security and Stickam go hand in hand.”
Flacks also explained that Becker had intentions of launching a site of his own that would be in direct competition with Stickam and was being “retaliatory” because he had been unsuccessful in reaching a contractual agreement with the company. Becker fired back, stating that he never signed a contract with Stickam due to a dispute over intellectual properties.
In the meantime, several thousand teenage members continue to log onto Stickam in order to broadcast their personal lives. Members often transmit improvised talk shows and flirt with other members in video-chat rooms where females constantly encounter bold requests for them to strip or perform lewd acts. What’s more, anyone can tune in to a user’s video feed, unless the user restricts it to friends only. Members are required to be 14 years old or older to join, but the site has no programs in place to verify ages.
In spite of all this, Stickam has gained attention from a few big-name partners, such as Warner Bros. Records, Lionsgate, and the Los Angeles Film Festival — all of which have used Stickam for promotional resources in the past. However, none of the partners seems to know Stickam’s exact background.
Becker said he began to comprehend the extent of the pornography business in April 2007, when Takahashi discussed his companies’ assets through translators, assets that include approximately 49 pornography sites, a pornographic film production company, nine restaurants in Japan, and private planes.
“I don’t think I discovered everything, but I learned more than enough to be able to say with certainty that they are not leaders in the video-conferencing business,” Becker said. “They are leaders in pushing porn via a Flash player and streaming porn from the United States to Japan.”
Becker continued by saying Takahashi had based his sites in the U.S. because of Japan’s limitations on explicit nudity.
Takashi, who declined to comment, is rather elusive when it comes to public information.
Donna Rice Hughes, president of Enough Is Enough, an Internet safety organization, said, “Considering Stickam’s ties to pornography, children and their parents should exercise caution when using the site. This is just another adult operator looking for a back door to the youth market. For youth without parental understanding and controls in place, this can be dangerous.”