Meta, the parent company of Facebook, intends to decrease the minimum age requirement for its virtual reality headsets from 13 years to 10 years, despite facing pressure from lawmakers who discourage the promotion of VR services to younger users.
In an announcement made on Friday through a blog post, Meta stated that parents will have the ability to create accounts for children as young as 10 years on their Quest 2 and Quest 3 headsets, beginning later this year.
However, children in the preteen age group will need parental consent to establish an account and download applications onto the device. Meta also mentioned that it will take into account children’s ages to ensure they have age-appropriate experiences, such as recommending suitable apps.
Meta stated, “We offer a wide selection of captivating and educational apps, games, and other content on our platform, with the majority being rated for ages 10 and above.”
Meta’s decision to decrease the minimum age requirement coincides with the increasing scrutiny faced by the company and other social media platforms regarding their influence on young users. Concerns include the potential negative effects on teenagers’ mental well-being and the possibility of exposing them to harmful content.
Concerns have been raised by both parents and lawmakers regarding the utilization of virtual reality (VR) and Meta’s envisioned “metaverse” by teenagers and children.
Meta’s Horizon Worlds VR Application & Teenage Access
In a previous instance this year, two Democratic senators, Senator Ed Markey from Massachusetts and Senator Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut, urged Meta to suspend their intention of providing Horizon Worlds, the company’s main VR application, to teenagers aged between 13 and 17. The senators argued that such technology could pose risks to the physical and mental well-being of young users. They expressed their dissatisfaction with Meta’s plan, considering the company’s “history of failing to safeguard children and teenagers,” as conveyed in a letter addressed to CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
However, in April, Meta proceeded with its initiative to permit teenagers as young as 13 in the United States and Canada to access Horizon Worlds, disregarding the mounting objections raised by lawmakers and civil society organizations.
Last year, concerned parents shared their experiences of finding out that their children had been exposed to violent and disturbing content through VR, leading them to grapple with finding effective methods to ensure the safety of their kids.
Meta is Making Efforts
On Friday, Meta announced several measures aimed at addressing parental concerns. These include granting parents the ability to set time limits and enforce breaks for their preteen children using the headsets. Additionally, accounts belonging to users under the age of 13 will be automatically set to private, with their active status on apps hidden by default, unless parents decide to modify these settings. Meta also enables content from its VR headsets to be cast onto a TV or phone screen, allowing parents to monitor their children’s experiences.
Meta emphasized that it will not display advertisements to users within this age group, and parents will have the option to decide whether their child’s data can be utilized to enhance the company’s services. It was further clarified by Meta that while preteens will be permitted to create parent-managed accounts on the headsets later this year, access to Horizon Worlds will remain limited to users aged 13 and above in the United States and Canada (and 18 and above in Europe).
Meta’s VR headsets and Horizon Worlds embody Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for a future internet generation, facilitating user interactions in virtual spaces that resemble real life. However, the company has faced challenges in attracting a broader audience to these products.