June 20, 2005

Use of web cams

16% of internet users have viewed a remote person or place using a web cam

One out of six American adult internet users (16%) have gone online to view another person or a place via a web cam. That translates into roughly 21 million people who have viewed material on web cams. And on any given day, about two million internet users are checking out remote places or people by using webcams.

These findings about web cam watching come from a nationwide phone survey of 1,450 internet users by the Pew Internet & American Life Project conducted between February 21 and March 21 this year. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus three points.

This is the first time the Project asked about use of web cams in its surveys, so it is not possible to analyze the level of growth these figures represent. However, it is likely that use of web cams has grown in recent years for several reasons: Web cams are relatively cheap – a decent cam unit can be purchased for under $30 – and easy to set up. The spread of broadband makes it ever easier to display and access images from web cams on computers. Indeed, 19% of those with broadband at home have checked out web cam images, compared to 13% of those who have dial-up at home.

Moreover, there are growing numbers of ways that people and organizations use web cams. Web cams allow users to capture digital video and immediately transmit it over the internet. They can be used for video chats and conferencing. They have been used in reality TV shows, to view remote and environmentally important locales, to increase surveillance of city streets and factories, to allow home buyers to view construction progress, to permit commuters to check out traffic hotspots, and in communications between U.S. military personnel in Iraq and their families. Webcams have also been used in collaborative contexts—connecting doctors, students, musicians and archaeologists across the globe—and in monitoring political candidates’ events.

The use of web cams appeals to all kinds of internet users. Online men are more likely than online women to have viewed images from web cams: 19% of men with internet access have done so, compared to 13% of wired women. Another way to describe the gender gap is to say that 60% of those who have viewed web cam material are men.

However, there are no noteworthy differences in the use of web cams in other demographic categories: minorities who use the internet are just as likely as whites to have viewed web cam images; internet users in their 50s and those in their 20s watch web cams in equal proportion; those online with graduate degrees and those with high school educations are equally interested in web cam viewing; those who live in relatively well-off households are as likely as those who live in homes with less income to have looked at web cam images; and non-parents are as likely as parents to have viewed web cam material.


The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a non-profit initiative of the Pew Research Center, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts to explore the impact of the internet on children, families, communities, health care, schools, the work place, and civic/political life. The Project is non-partisan and does not advocate for any policy outcomes. For more information, please visit our website: http://www.pewinternet.org/.