Despite releasing its first VR headset in May 2019, Meta is only now adding parental controls to its Meta Quest VR headset.
After last year’s rebrand, all eyes are on Meta as they try to prove that their investment in VR was worth the rebrand. But while bringing its safety features to the attention of the US top office, Meta is trying to make its platforms safer for kids by implementing various parental controls.
Sales of Meta Quest 2 skyrocketed during the 2021 holiday season, with the Oculus Quest mobile companion app estimated to have been downloaded nearly two million times two weeks after Christmas. But as the Meta headset became more popular, the lack of parental controls became more and more of an issue. The UK Information Commissioner’s office has come under additional pressure to suggest that the headset may violate internet safety rules for children.
Quest headsets currently allow users to set an unlock pattern, such as a password, to access their device. In April, Meta said it would extend this functionality to specific applications. So, if a parent doesn’t want their child to play a certain game on a shared headset, they can set a unique unlock code for that app.
In May, Meta plans to add a feature that will automatically block teens from downloading apps that IARC deems inappropriate for their age group (Quest profiles are linked to Facebook accounts, allowing the platform to know your age). But if a young teen is using an account associated with their parent’s login, this protection may not be effective.
In the coming months, Meta will continue to develop its suite of parental controls for the Quest. Through the Oculus mobile apps, parents can access the Parent Panel, which allows parents to link their child’s account.
The company also opened a family center to organize its equipment and other parenting resources.
“The process is initiated by the teen and both parent and teen must agree to the experience,” Meta wrote on her blog.
Incorporating these VR surveillance tools into a mobile app is a smart move for parents, who may feel more comfortable operating a mobile app than a VR headset. With this mobile dashboard, parents can manage which apps their child can download based on their ratings, so parents can, for example, link their teen’s account to apps for all ages to pre-authorize downloads. If a teen wants to purchase a paid app, the parent can accept or decline the request. Parents can also block their child’s access to certain apps, including the web browser and Link, which connects the Quest headset to PC VR games. In addition, parents can view their child’s screen time, friends list, and downloaded apps.
Quest headsets are designed for users aged 13 and up, but younger kids will inevitably find their way into VR. But even for teenagers, some apps are age-specific, like Horizon World and Horizon Space, Meta’s two social VR apps.
The Horizon World welcome plaza only has human moderators, but their job is more focused on helping users who might have questions about how to take a selfie in the Metaverse.
Horizon World has already been used for an underdeveloped content moderation system. BuzzFeed said it was creating a test world filled with content banned from Facebook and Instagram, such as the QAnon conspiracy, but Meta’s content moderation system said it wasn’t violating the rules. Some users have also reported sexual harassment and harassment on the platform. Unfortunately, this also happens in text-based web forums, but this kind of harassment can be especially intense in an immersive, unfamiliar virtual world. For now, META has installed an additional personal restriction feature in an attempt to stop this behavior.
gaming-updates has asked Meta to comment on how it can block users under 18 from accessing apps such as Horizon World, as several users have indicated that there are already children on the platform. The store includes complaints of child abuse and harassment.
“Today is the first step in a long journey, and we plan to add more features over time,” said Meta spokesperson gaming-updates. He pointed to app-specific unlock patterns as a possible solution, but that would only keep kids over 18 away from the platform if their parents have the knowledge and foresight to do so. “The features of our parental control tools will continue to evolve and expand over time as we learn more about what parents and teens need on our platform.”
Ultimately, parental controls are only effective when parents and teens use them properly, but deploying these railings can at least be meta.