US Senators Ask Mark Zuckerberg To Pause Metaverse App Release
- Meta defends Horizon’s safety with age-appropriate protections for teenagers on Quest headsets.
- Concerns were raised by Senators over Meta’s past record on child and teen safety, including Messenger Kids and targeted ads.
Two U.S. senators, Ed Markey, and Richard Blumenthal have written a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta Platforms Inc., urging him to halt the release of Horizon Worlds metaverse app to teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17.
The senators cited the company’s failure to protect young users and growing evidence of threats to them in the metaverse. Meta, the parent company of Facebook, did not respond to the letter, but a spokesperson mentioned that the company had released supervision tools in June that allow parents to monitor and manage the apps their teens use. The letter from Sens. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) shared:
In light of your company’s record of failing 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.
According to a recent report by The Wall Street Journal, Meta Platforms Inc. planned to open its Horizon metaverse app to teenagers in March as part of its new strategy to expand its user base. Gabriel Aul, Meta’s vice president of Horizon, emphasized the importance of serving this demographic, stating that for Horizon to succeed, it needs to focus on teenagers first and foremost.
Meta’s Quest virtual-reality headsets were designed for ages 13 and up, and the company intends to provide a safe and enjoyable experience with age-appropriate protections for teenagers who already use them.
However, Sens. Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal expressed concerns about the plan to open Horizon to teenagers, given Meta’s track record with products for children and teens. They cited a flaw in Messenger Kids that allowed users between the ages of 6 and 12 to interact with strangers, as well as Meta’s failure to prevent ads targeting teens for tobacco, alcohol, and eating disorders.
Meta has responded by saying that the Messenger Kids flaw only affected a small number of group chats and that the company has restricted advertisers’ options for reaching teens, as well as the information used to determine which ads are shown to them.
In addition to their concerns about Messenger Kids and targeted ads, Sens. Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal also cited Meta’s internal research regarding the negative impact of its Instagram service on some teen girls. The Wall Street Journal reported on this research in 2021, which found that Instagram was toxic for some teen girls. In response, Instagram has implemented measures to address issues such as bullying, self-harm, and eating disorders, with the aim of making the app safe for all users. However, a Meta spokesman pointed out that the company’s research has also shown that some teen girls have reported positive effects from using Instagram.