Senators urge Meta not to open Horizon Worlds up to younger teens

They cited the 'company’s record of failure to protect children and teens.'

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Two senators have urged Mark Zuckerberg not to open up Meta's Horizon Worlds to younger teenagers. In early February, reports suggested the company could allow those aged 13 to 17 to use the app as soon as this month in a bid to bolster the userbase and perhaps help justify the billions of dollars Meta has plowed into its metaverse efforts. Horizon Worlds is currently only officially available to adults.

Democratic Sens. Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal urged Zuckerberg to halt plans to bring the app to under-18s. “In light of your company’s record of failure to protect children and teens and a growing body of evidence pointing to threats to young users in the metaverse, we urge you to halt this plan immediately,” their letter reads, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The senators are said to have highlighted a number of concerns regarding Meta's track record on protecting younger users, as well as research on possible dangers of the metaverse. They noted previous issues such as a Messenger Kids bug that allowed children aged between six and 12 to bypass age restrictions and talk to strangers in some cases.

The duo cited reports from 2021 regarding Meta's internal research, which indicated that Instagram was a harmful platform for many teens, especially girls. Meta responded to the reports by claiming the research also showed that some girls felt positive effects of using Instagram and that the app's team had done a lot of work on issues like bullying and self-harm to make it a safer space. Nevertheless, Meta put plans for an Instagram Kids app on hold following a backlash.

The senators additionally cited research from Common Sense Media in noting that using virtual reality headsets to access metaverse experiences can induce nausea and eye strain, and also impact users' privacy. The letter pointed to Center for Countering Digital Hate research suggesting that users of VRChat, a popular social platform available on Quest headsets, can expose users to abusive behavior every seven minutes.

Following the reports about it bringing Horizon Worlds to younger users, Meta noted that its Quest headsets are designed for users aged 13 and older. As such, a spokesperson indicated that it made sense to offer Horizon Worlds experiences to younger teens with "age-appropriate tools and protections in place."

Horizon's monthly active user figures are said to have hovered just north of 200,000 as of January. Meta reportedly hopes to increase that number to half a million by the end of June and a million by the end of the year. An internal memo indicated that the company sees younger users as the key to helping it reach those goals. Meta also plans to release mobile and web versions of Horizon soon.

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