Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, plans to lower the recommended age for using its Quest headphones from 13 to 10 years old, the company said in a statement. blog post on Friday, a move that could trigger new privacy and security concerns with parents and global watchdogs.
The company is discussing its plans with regulators, two people with knowledge of Meta’s talks said, and is trying to allay immediate concerns about whether younger children wearing the headphones could be subject to greater risk.
Meta said it would require parental approval of a tween to set up an account, and that young users would only see apps and content rated for the tween age group. Quest headsets allow people to enter the so-called metaverse, an immersive online world, and play virtual reality games and perform other tasks.
Over the past year, Meta has slowly lowered the age restrictions for its VR apps to reach younger audiences. In April, the company said it would allow people under the age of 18 to use Horizon Worlds, its virtual reality-based social network, which appears to have many young users. Horizon Worlds se stay restricted to users over the age of 13, as previously reported by The Verge.
In its blog post, Meta said it was changing the age of Quest headsets “to give families even more ways to use and enjoy Meta Quest.” She added that she was committed to “building safe and positive experiences for young people.”
The use of technology by adolescents and children has long been a contentious issue. Last month, the United States Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, issued a public warning about the risks of social media for young people, urging a push for full understanding of the potential “harm to mental health and well-being.” of children and adolescents”. .” He also called on lawmakers to limit youth access to social media to help protect children and their privacy.
Virtual reality is a relatively new field, and its risks are still emerging. But harassment, assaults, intimidation and hate speech are already rampant in virtual reality games, which are part of the metaverse, and few mechanisms exist to easily report bad behavior, the researchers said.
As concerns mounted, regulators took action. The Federal Trade Commission recently stepped up its crackdown on technology companies for violating a federal children’s privacy law. That law, called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, requires sites and apps aimed at youth to obtain parental consent before collecting personal data, such as an email address or precise location, of a child under 13 years of age.
Meta and its platforms have been of particular concern to regulators. Last month, the FTC said it was considering action to bar Meta from profiting from youth data across all of its platforms, including Instagram and Horizon Worlds, and that the company’s “recklessness” had put youth data at risk. young users. Meta subsequently asked a federal court to block the agency’s proposed action.
The Quest headset’s age change comes as building a VR-based version of the metaverse has become crucial to the future of Meta. Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s founder and CEO, has spent the past two years moving his social media business into the metaverse. Last year, he spent nearly $14 billion to expand Reality Labs, the arm of the company that is dedicated to building hardware and developing the metaverse.
The high costs of trying to turn the metaverse into a core business have spooked Wall Street, sending Meta shares tumbling last year. Enthusiasm for the metaverse has also waned over the past year, as more techies flocked to the rise of artificial intelligence with the launch of chatbots like ChatGPT. Zuckerberg has also pushed to incorporate AI into Meta’s products.
But he has also said that he remains focused on the metaverse. At a company-wide meeting last week, Zuckerberg assured employees that he was committed to their virtual reality and augmented reality plans and that it would go a long way in making his vision a reality.
Lowering the minimum age requirements for the company’s Quest headsets could help familiarize younger audiences with the metaverse, similar to how Facebook initially started on college campuses in 2004, so they’re more likely to continue using the metaverse. technology as they grow.
Meta is likely looking to integrate into the lives of young people, following a strategy used by other game companies including Roblox, Microsoft with its game Minecraft, and Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite. Those games have a combined user base of hundreds of millions, many of whom are under the age of 35.
“What we have seen is that Meta, based solely on business imperatives, continually de-age its VR products and do so without any evidence that these things are safe for young people,” said Josh Golin, CEO of Fairplay. , a nonprofit children’s advocacy group. “It’s beyond the pale and clearly driven by the fact that they’re trying to compete for a market, not driven by the needs of the kids.”
Meta is working to assure regulators that it will provide parental controls to keep young users safe when using the device, said the two people with knowledge of the company’s plans who spoke on condition of anonymity. Some of these include time limits, parental-managed controls over content or apps, and privacy settings that will not allow other people using Horizon Worlds to follow your tweens without their or their parent’s approval.
The company said it would use data from tweens experimenting with the Quest headphones to provide an “age-appropriate experience,” but it won’t run ads for the age group. Parents can also delete their children’s profiles and associated data.