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Meta Lowers Minimum Age for Virtual Reality Headsets to 10

Meta's decision to lower the minimum age comes amid increasing scrutiny faced by the company and other social media giants regarding their impact on young users.

Meta Quest Pro Virtual Reality

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, has announced plans to lower the minimum age for its virtual reality (VR) headsets from 13 to 10 years old.

According to a blog post released by Meta on Friday, parents will soon be able to set up accounts for children as young as 10 years old on Meta’s Quest 2 and Quest 3 headsets. However, children in this age group will require parental approval to establish an account and download apps onto their devices. Meta has assured concerned parties that it will provide “age-appropriate experiences” and recommend suitable applications.

Meta’s decision to lower the minimum age comes amid increasing scrutiny faced by the company and other social media giants regarding their impact on young users, particularly in relation to mental health concerns and exposure to harmful content. Lawmakers and parents have expressed specific concerns about the use of VR technology and its potential implications for teenagers and children.

Earlier this year, Meta faced criticism when it unveiled plans to offer its flagship VR app, Horizon Worlds, to teens between 13 and 17. Two Democratic senators, Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, urged the company to suspend this initiative, citing concerns over the potential physical and mental health risks to young users. The lawmakers described Meta’s plans as “unacceptable” due to the company’s perceived failure to adequately protect children and teens.

Despite the objections, Meta proceeded with its decision to allow teens as young as 13 in the United States and Canada to access Horizon Worlds, resulting in a further outcry from lawmakers and civil society groups.

Meta outlined several measures in its blog post. Parents will have the ability to set time limits and enforce breaks for their preteen children while using VR headsets. Additionally, accounts of users under 13 will be set to private, and their active status on apps will be hidden by default unless parents choose to modify these settings. Meta also enables content casting from the VR headsets to external screens, allowing parents to monitor their children’s VR experiences.

To alleviate fears about data privacy and targeted advertising, Meta assured the public that it would not serve ads to users in the 10 to 12 age group. Parents can decide whether their child’s data can be utilized to enhance Meta’s services. The company also reiterated that Horizon Worlds would remain restricted to users aged 13 and older in the United States and Canada, and 18 and older in Europe, even after the introduction of parent-managed accounts later this year.

Meta spokesperson, Joe Osborne said, “We understand the concerns raised by lawmakers and parents regarding the use of virtual reality technology among young users. Our decision to lower the minimum age to 10 reflects our commitment to providing a safe and age-appropriate VR experience. We will continue to work closely with parents, regulators, and the wider community to ensure the well-being of all users.”

Meta’s VR headsets embody CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for a next-generation internet, where users can engage with each other in virtual spaces resembling real life. However, the company has faced challenges in attracting a mainstream audience for these products.

The government’s scrutiny of how tech companies handle their underage users continues to intensify, with numerous bills in Congress seeking to empower regulators and potentially ban children under 13 from accessing social media altogether.

Meta’s decision to lower the minimum age for its Quest headsets demonstrates a strategic approach to address the desires of children who are eager to explore VR technology. By providing a more restricted experience with stringent parental controls, Meta aims to preempt potential legal repercussions and fines, similar to the recent $520 million penalty imposed by the FTC on Epic Games. The FTC found that Epic Games knew that many children were playing Fortnite, highlighting the need for companies to offer age-appropriate options.

While Meta acknowledges the sensitive nature of this topic, it appears prepared for the potential backlash and criticism from lawmakers. The company implemented strict internal measures to maintain secrecy surrounding the plan, codenamed “Project Salsa,” by requiring involved employees to sign separate legal disclosures and mark documents as “A/C privilege,” in case of potential intervention from regulatory authorities.




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