But those Internet safety advocates might be even more anxious if they knew of Stickam's close ties to a large online pornography business.
On its Web site and in press reports, Stickam says that it is owned by Advanced Video Communications, or AVC, a three-year-old Los Angeles company that sells video conferencing and e-commerce services to businesses in Japan and other Asian countries.
But according to Alex Becker, a former vice president at Stickam, and internal company documents, Advanced Video Communications is managed and owned by Wataru Takahashi, a Japanese businessman who also owns and operates DTI Services, a vast network of Web sites offering live sex shows over Web cameras. Becker alleges that Stickam shares office space, employees and computer systems with the pornographic Web sites.
The sites, with names like DxLive, EXshot and JgirlParadise,to link paying users with performers in one-on-one video chat sessions.
Becker recently left Stickam after four months there and said he was speaking out because the company was not doing enough to protect young users of its service. Becker also alleges that he witnessed Stickam employees deleting thousands of e-mail messages sent to the company's addresses set up for customer service and abuse complaints, without reading or responding to them.
Becker criticized what he said was the practice of sharing employees among Stickam and the pornographic sites.
The workers at Takahashi's companies "only know how to conduct an adult Web site," Becker said. "They don't get it that there are predators on the Internet."
When asked about Becker's allegations, Scott Flacks, Stickam's vice president for marketing, denied that the site was negligent about 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 said that Becker had plans to create a site that would compete with Stickam and was being "retaliatory" because he had been unable to reach agreement on a contract with the company. (Becker acknowledged that he had never signed a contract because of a dispute over intellectual property.)
former vice president at Stickam
Flacks said AVC was one of four "separate divisions" managed and owned by Takahashi, one of which includes DTI Services and the pornography companies. But Flacks said AVC operated independently of the pornography sites, and compared it with Disney's ownership of Touchstone Pictures, which produces R-rated films.
"I expect some Touchstone executives have been on the Disney lot, but that doesn't mean Disney is a content producer of adult entertainment," he said.
Though Stickam remains relatively small compared to Web giants like MySpace and YouTube, several thousand of its mostly teenage members log onto the site each night to broadcast their own lives, often from their bedrooms. They put on makeshift talk shows, flirt with other members in video chat rooms, and often, if they are female, field repeated requests to take off their clothes.
Anyone can tune into a user's video feed, unless the user restricts it to friends only. Members must be 14 or older to sign up, but the site does not attempt to verify ages.
Stickam has attracted a few big-name partners. Lionsgate, Warner Brothers Records and the Los Angeles Film Festival have all used Stickam for promotional purposes. Representative Ron Paul, a Republican of Texas and a candidate for president, answered questions from Stickam users last month.
But none of them appear to know Stickam's true parentage. At first, neither did Becker, 40, who joined the company in March after a friend introduced him to Flacks, a former executive at Fox Interactive. Becker said he had been enthralled by the potential to bring live video to mobile phones, and had been impressed by the company's offices atop the tallest building in Los Angeles, the U.S. Bank Tower.
Becker said he soon learned that Takahashi's companies leased premium office space in several downtown Los Angeles skyscrapers, including Macy's Plaza, Sanwa Bank Plaza and One Wilshire, which houses the largest telecommunications hub in the Pacific Rim.
In the U.S. Bank Tower the companies occupy the 72nd floor, its highest, as well as the 61st and 68th floors. Last week Becker, using his company access badges, brought a reporter to the offices, which have impressive 360-degree views that stretch to the Pacific Ocean. The top floor in particular seemed curiously empty, with a dozen employees at most working there.
The floors are leased for about $35 to $37 a square foot, according to the building's leasing agent, which makes it some of the most expensive office space in Southern California.
Yet Stickam, a free site, does not have advertising, and does not appear to have earned any recurring revenue in its two-year existence. It has courted media companies to use its site for promotions.
Becker said Stickam shares the 68th floor with DxLive, one of the sex sites. He said a running tally on a whiteboard there indicated that DxLive was bringing in around $220,000 a day.
Becker alleges that he saw DxLive on-camera performers being trained on the building's 61st floor in matters like how to respond to special customer requests. Flacks of Stickam flatly disputed this, but he acknowledged that DxLive does have "some" office space in the U.S. Bank Tower.
Becker said he first learned of the extent of the pornography business last April, when Takahashi, who employees refer to as T, took him to dinner at a downtown sushi restaurant. Through translators he described some of his companies' assets, which include at least 49 pornography sites, a pornographic film production company, nine restaurants in Japan and private planes, Becker said.
"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 said Takahashi told him that he had based his sites in the United States because of Japan's restrictions on explicit nudity.
Public information about Takahashi, who declined interview requests, is hard to come by. A March issue of a local newspaper had a page with photos from a "Birthday Celebration in Honor of Billionaire Businessman Wataru Takahashi."
Donna Rice Hughes, president of Enough Is Enough, an Internet safety organization, said that 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," she said. "For youth without parental understanding and controls in place, this can be dangerous."