In a much-needed step towards a safer internet for children, metaThe latest set of parental control tools helps keep an eye on kids and teens as we stroll through the world of virtual reality.
Launched on June 14, the update allows parents and guardians to directly block apps and web browsers, see their children’s screen time and friend lists, and disable the ability to use the Link and Air Link features on Quest headsets. to access otherwise blocked content on the user’s personal computers. The monitoring tools include the ability to view app downloads and purchases on user headsets, along with the optional requirement for teens to notify their guardians and initiate parental approval for purchases. The company will also launch a new parent education hub with a guide to its VR monitoring tools.
“As VR technologies continue to gain traction and the Quest becomes a favorite product of many young people, parents and guardians now have access to a range of tools to protect and engage with their teens’ participation and experiences,” wrote Dr. Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Centerin the update announcement.
In addition to the new virtual reality safety tools, Meta is also expanding its teen wellness resources for Instagram users. Parents can set specific “quiet hours” for children’s use during the day or week, and see more information about accounts and messages reported by verified users. The app will also warn users to switch topics on their Explore page after scrolling through the same content for a time specified by the app. According to the company, the warning is “intended to encourage teens to discover something new and exclude certain topics that could be related to outward comparison.” Instagram will also feature new “Take a Break” videos when a user scrolls through Instagram scrolls for too long, just like TikTok’s Screen Time Prompts†
The new parental controls in VR debut just days after law firm Beasley Allen filed eight lawsuits against Meta because, as it claims, children are not adequately protected and “young people are exploited for profit”. It’s just the last of the much needed criticisms of the company for its apparent lack of concern about adolescent safety following allegations last year that social media platforms ignored concerns about teen mental health, resulting in a congress testimonial by Instagram head Adam Mosseri for 2021.
According to the launch of Meta’s Horizon Worlds – a VR “creator space” for users to connect and build virtual worlds – and it’s new “security-focused” features, for users and researchers alike expressed concern that young users would still be easily exposed until unmoderated hate speech and Harassment† Meta later added an “unreadable voices” filter to Horizon Worlds that turned the voice chats of VR strangers into unintelligible, friendly sounds, and a function “personal boundary” to hopefully block harassment from uninvited users. Then in May, Meta announced new locking tools to block specific apps from a user’s Quest headset in response to concerns teens and children with unsupervised access were exposed to inappropriate virtual reality rooms†
This announcement isn’t Meta’s first or last effort to make its apps and new technology safer for young people. In March, Meta launched the Family Center for Instagram, which houses the app’s teen safety and parental controls, including surveillance dashboards where guardians can track activity, followers, and frequently used accounts. The center also included educational resources on online safety for families, in partnership with outside organizations such as The Trevor Project. much more recently, Instagram added the ability to filter out sensitive contentsuch as explicit violence or sexually explicit messages, from your feed.
In the virtual reality world of Meta Quest, a realm of almost terrifyingly varied possibilities, tools like these are an even more pressing concern. But the user-centric tools still have their limits in a space where even adults can’t escape harassmentand beg us to ask how companies can deal with the damage already done.