British watchdog to grill Meta on VR child safety

Meta faces further scrutiny of its approach to child safety. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said The Guardian in one declaration that he was planning “further discussions” with Meta about the Quest 2 VR headset’s compliance with a newly established children’s code that prioritizes the “best interests” of young users. The watchdog wants to determine whether Meta’s headset and virtual reality services sufficiently protect children’s privacy and data.

Baroness Beeban Kidron, who developed the code, was concerned that Meta’s platform would make signing off too easy for kids and risked abuse, harassment, and explicit content. Meta may require a Facebook account (and therefore a user to be at least 13 years old), but that does not mean that it implements the age controls required by the code. Kids can get into potentially dangerous virtual reality chat rooms just by “checking a box” to say they’re old enough, Kidron said.

A spokesperson for Meta said The Guardian the internet giant was “committed” to honoring the children’s code and was “confident” that its VR hardware met the code’s requirements. The representative stressed that the terms of use do not allow children under the age of 13 to use the products, but did not respond to concerns that it was too easy for children to ignore this policy. The company has already pledged a $ 50 million program to ensure its metaverse development complies with laws and regulations.

The UK could impose a wide range of penalties if the ICO finds out Meta has violated the code. While authorities do little more than issue a warning, they could also impose a fixed fine on Meta of up to £ 17.5million (around $ 23.8million) or up to at 4% of its worldwide turnover – over $ 10 billion. There is at least some pressure on Meta to keep kids safer in VR, even if it’s just to protect the company’s finances.

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