After previously limiting access to the social VR platform for people 18 years of age and older, Meta today announced that it is opening Horizon Worlds to teen users in the United States and Canada. The company claims that as part of the expansion, it would roll out a set of age-appropriate restrictions and safety defaults.
The action was taken in response to calls from lawmakers and children’s rights advocates for Meta to drop its ambitions to make the site accessible to younger users.
Meta has security steps to keep teens safe
The announcement made today is not unexpected because a leaked letter from February indicated that Meta intended to grant users between the ages of 13 and 17 access to Horizon Worlds. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ed Markey (D-MA) pleaded with Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg to put an end to the plans in a letter they sent to the CEO at the time. They claimed that allowing minors access to “digital space rife with potential harms” would be a horrible idea.
Before making Worlds available to this age group, Meta claims to have invested in additional safety measures such as back-end protections and parental supervision tools that allow parents and teens to help control the experience. According to the corporation, it is introducing Horizon Worlds to teens gradually so that it may thoroughly assess usage before launching it more widely.
Teens have control over who they follow and whether they can be followed back, and as their profiles are by default set to private, they can accept or reject any follower requests. A teen can choose whether or not their connections can see if they are online and which public world or event they are in. By default, Meta also won’t reveal a teen’s active status and their location in Horizon Worlds to other people.
In a blog post, Meta stated, “We use content ratings to ensure teens have an age-appropriate experience within Worlds. For example, mature world and event ratings prevent teens from finding, seeing, or entering spaces that contain mature content. Our policies prohibit teens from publishing mature worlds or events. Worlds violating this policy will be removed.”
Additionally, Meta will muddle the voices of strangers that a teen doesn’t know. The teen’s voice will also be muddled, making it impossible for strangers to hear them.
Meta claims that by hiding any adults from a teen’s “people you might know” list, it will reduce interactions between teenagers and adults.
Meta’s parental control features
For parents, allowing their teen to connect through Meta’s Family Center service will allow them to set up Worlds parental control. Parents will be able to view, modify, and lock safety features once this is set up. The followers and unfollowers of their teen will be visible to parents as well. Parents can use the settings to monitor how much time their children have spent in Worlds and to prevent them from doing so at all.
In the days preceding the announcement, a number of children’s rights advocates urged Meta to drop its ambitions to draw young kids to the social VR platform out of concern that doing so would expose them to homophobic and sexually graphic content.
When it comes to protecting users as they utilize the platform, Meta has encountered issues. After Horizon Worlds’ first release, some players claimed to have experienced groping and sexual harassment there. Later, Meta introduced a “personal boundary” option to address this. Since it can be challenging to control speech-based interactions on a large scale, much of the platform might feel like a free-for-all.
Though theoretically only adults were allowed to use Horizon Worlds prior to this expansion, many users stated that the site was flooded with children who were able to easily circumvent the age restriction.
Content Source: Techcrunch.com