The Virtual reality (VR) industry is growing at a fast pace. But as pointed out by the AR/VR developer Skarredghost, the industry has ‘a kid issue‘. And, for a number of reasons, “VR shouldn’t be used by children“.
When speaking about VR these days, it is difficult not to come across the bestselling products from Meta (formerly known as Facebook). And now the UK data watchdog, ICO, investigates if Meta’s Oculus Quest 2 device, is actually breaching the child protecting Age Appropriate Design Code that came info force in UK last year, according to The Guardian. The code requires all online services and products that use personal data and are likely to be accessed by children to comply with a number of rules. One of the architects of the code, Beeban Kidron, explains that Meta could be challenged under several aspects of the code:
“For instance, users need to be over 13 to use the Oculus headset – a Facebook account, which has a minimum age of 13, is required to operate it – which could put Meta in breach of the code’s provisions requiring companies to check a user’s age. VRChat, which also has a minimum age requirement of 13, faces similar questions“.In general the code focuses on preventing websites and apps from misusing children’s data and also applies to “connected devices”, but it does not regulate content, as The Guradian writes.
Companies Turn A Blind Eye
But this doesn’t mean, that there is not a kids problem regarding content in Meta and VR in general. Mitch Prinstein, a clinical psychologist, who serves as chief science officer for the American Psychological Association says to CNBC that the use of 3D digital avatars in the metaverse carries an essential problem: “Being able to modify your likeness to project a version of yourself that differs from real life can be “pretty dangerous for adolescents, in particular,”.
In December, research from the non-profit Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found that minors were regularly exposed to graphic sexual content, racist and violent language, bullying and other forms of harassment on VRChat’s platform, which is typically accessed through Meta’s Oculus headsets.
Meta Will Cash In On Data
So – there is nothing new under the sun, really: Big tech companies de facto treat children below the age of 13 – and their data – as if they were adults. And in the Metaverse the implications of this could be harsh. Because the question is: What could these data not be used for?
The Financial Times wrote that a Meta patent that was granted on January 4 2022, lays out a system for tracking a user’s facial expressions through a headset that will then “adapt media content” based on those responses.
VR really has a kid problem. And that problem cannot be solved by parents alone.
The Future of Tech – A blueprint for Action is a new report from the US Future of Tech Commission, where the author of this article was part of the group of experts giving input. Mie Oehlenschlager gave following input on kids online in general (not specifically re VR):
– Prohibit collection of data from teens who are 16 and under.
-Ban behavioral advertising to children under age 16.
-Prohibit manipulative design practices that push inappropriate content to children.
-Require online companies to conduct and publicly disclose a “Children’s Impact Assessment” before the launch of a major new service or product.
-Require companies to adhere to “Duty of Care” regulations to safeguard personal data in their possession.
Photo: Unsplash.com, @stem_t4l