It is, in the words of one teenage site operator, the ''Webcam Matrix,'' a reference to the movie in which a computerized world exists without the knowledge of most of humanity.
In this virtual universe, adults hunt for minors on legitimate sites used by Webcam owners who post contact information in hopes of attracting friends. Many teenagers solicit ''donations,'' request gifts through sites like or negotiate payments, while a smaller number charge monthly fees.
Webcams cost as little as , and the number of them being used has mushroomed to 15 million, according to IDC, an industry consulting group.
But there are other beneficiaries, including businesses, some witting and some unwitting, that provide services to the sites like Web hosting and payment processing.
One Web site proclaims that it features 140,000 images of ''adolescents in cute panties exposing themselves on their teen Webcams.'' Entry into this side of cyberspace is simplicity itself.
Times policy forbids paying the subjects of articles for information or interviews. Eichenwald, who left The Times last fall, described in his article and essay.
They say the camera adds 10 pounds, and what if that’s true? The camming industry, also known as the live content industry, has blown up in the past few years. When you crunch those numbers, you’ll see one token isn’t worth very much money.
To Justin, they seemed just like friends, ready with compliments and always offering gifts.
" EDITORS' NOTE APPENDED The 13-year-old boy sat in his California home, eyes fixed on a computer screen. Imagine when you try to compound that math—20,000 models on 24/7. He told me, “If you log on to the 10 biggest cam sites on the Internet, and you see the model counts for who is on that day for each of those 10 websites, there will probably be like 20,000 models online at any given time.Now, on an afternoon in 2000, one member of his audience sent a proposal: he would pay Justin to sit bare-chested in front of his Webcam for three minutes. So began the secret life of a teenager who was lured into selling images of his body on the Internet over the course of five years.The man explained that Justin could receive the money instantly and helped him open an account on Pay Pal.com, an online payment system. From the seduction that began that day, this soccer-playing honor roll student was drawn into performing in front of the Webcam -- undressing, showering, masturbating and even having sex -- for an audience of more than 1,500 people who paid him, over the years, hundreds of thousands of dollars. But what if there was a moneymaking space where those 10 pounds and that stupid face were celebrated? The site Cam4 usually offers 500 tokens for around 0, 250 tokens for and 100 tokens for .99.