Thinking about becoming a Camgirl, but don't know what to expect?
Mark Prince of LiveCamNetwork.com, Canada's eight-year-old grand-scale chat site, says his company employs 17 women who work out of studios and several who broadcast from home. Most are students who need quick, short-term extra money. In-studio performers are paid $13.50 an hour plus 75 cents a minute per customer on a four-person group or VIP one-on-one chat. Presently, about 3,000 people visit the site every day.
Even Prince doesn't think "anyone should make this a career."
But if it's a short-term thing, how can you be sure that images of yourself masturbating won't be smeared everywhere on the Net, à la Paris Hilton?
"When you're streaming live video over the Internet, it can't necessarily be recorded [because of the company's unique software installed directly on performers' hard drive]," says Prince, whose site rakes in $105,000 a month. "If you have a personal website with a bunch of pictures, people can download those pictures and share them with their friends. When it's streaming, it's very hard to record, though not impossible. So the possibility of your kids finding out in 10 years is lower."
He says the company will keep performer agreement files for seven years after you quit, for legal reasons, but is not allowed to sell your info to a tabloid or spam group afterwards.
And a lot of women take comfort in that. Luna became a webgirl on Prince's site four years ago when she moved to Toronto from Saskatoon. She didn't want to do telemarketing, so this seemed the best option, considering her lack of work experience. Since then, she's become a studio manager, training new recruits on what to do and say to clients who log on. She's never had problems with stalkers, but it is something to be aware of.
"I'm concerned about it, but it's never happened to me," she says. "I've never been stopped on the street, but it is possible, because locals do log in. If you're careful about not giving out your personal info, this can be a really empowering experience." But you do have to get naked for most customers, and, yes, more likely than not you will be masturbating.
She warns that if you're really concerned about being recognized in the real world, this job isn't for you. And if you're considering working in a studio, make sure it doesn't look "sketchy" or "unhygienic." If it does, chances are you'll get ripped off.
The main goal for all camgirls is to connect with the purchaser because guys can get the T&A anywhere. The reason they stay in a chat is for emotional attention from a girl. That's why LiveCamNetwork.com trains its employees to look right into the lens to make eye contact with the customer.
This virtual-yet-intimate connection is why an estimated 8 million North Americans spend more than 11 hours a week pursuing sex online. People get hooked easily on the easy access to porn in the privacy of their own home, and it's cheaper than buying girlie mags.
"People are drawn to watching it because we are naturally voyeuristic social beings," says Mark Federman, chief strategist in the McLuhan program in culture and technology at Ryerson University. "But why people perform on webcams is more interesting. Technology is going through this flip now into 'publicy,' which is outing all the stuff that used to be private."
Is there a downside to all this? Penny Lawson of the Bellwood Health Services on McNicoll Avenue thinks there could be for the overindulging purchaser. Her centre is the only place in Canada that has a treatment program for sex addiction. Lawson, manager of family services and special programs, says she gets over 100 calls a year for sex addiction therapy, six out of seven of them from men.
"What happens is that they need to up the ante," says Lawson. "They might have started watching Internet porn, and after a while that becomes not so satisfying, so they go to webcam sites, where there's more exposure, plus adding the exhibitionist card. You're having emotional contact with the camperson, but not having skin contact, so the rationalization of 'I'm not actually having an affair' is greater."
And while there are watchdog sites out there to keep kids from stumbling on porn sites, there are no laws protecting the labour rights of webcam site employees.
"Trading content on the Internet isn't regulated, but I was under the impression that webcam providers are under the same conditions or similar laws as exotic dancer parlours," says Julien Lavoie, director of communications at the Media Awareness Network. "But I mean, really, there is no way to enforce any of that."
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) says that because these transactions happen on the Internet, it plays no part in the regulation of this industry. The Ministry of Consumer and Business Affairs says the same. The only branch of government with a mandate is the Department of Justice, and even its involvement is minimal.
The Justice Department is lobbying Parliament to amend Bill C-2, the child porn law, to include a section dealing with general webcam voyeurism. The point would be to criminalize those who tap into someone else's webcam broadcast and then send it into cyberspace. The amendment, says the department's Patrick Charette, "will focus on the intent and what is done with the material, especially in light of new technology capable of transmitting webcam footage through the Internet."
You have been warned.