The UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is investigating claims that the VR hardware manufacturer with ambitions on the metaverse, Meta, has committed multiple breaches of the safety code that is intended to safeguard children online.
According to an article in British newspaper The Guardian, the independent authority is examining the lack of parental controls on the best-selling Quest 2 headset.
This activity is informed by research by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a campaign group, citing more than 100 instances of inappropriate behaviour by users within a 12-hour period on the social app, VRChat. If found to have breached the children's code, Meta could be liable for a fine of up to £17.5m or 4% of the company’s global turnover, which in the case of Meta would be £2.5bn.
An ICO spokesperson responded to the Guardian with a statement, “We are planning further discussions with Meta on its children’s privacy and data protection by design approaches to Oculus products and virtual reality services. Parents and children who have concerns about how their data is being handled can complain to us at the ICO.” [Ed: link inserted by us.]
Children’s code founder Baroness Beeban Kidron told The Guardian, "The worries about the Oculus VR Headset demonstrate why we need to see ‘safety by design’ as a new norm in tech… Kids using VR headsets like Oculus can access chatrooms and other features known to carry risk, by simply ticking a box declaring they meet the minimum age requirements. This is an insufficient barrier to underage use of services known to harbour child abuse, harassment, racism and pornography.”
Safety from the outset
Andy Burrows, the head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC added that, "It’s clear Meta hasn’t developed the Oculus headset in a way that’s at all consistent with a safety-by-design approach”. He anticipates future problems with the company's transition to a metaverse company saying, “If this is the start of Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse it suggests he isn’t committed to building it safely from the outset, and that much-needed lessons still haven’t been learnt,” said Burrows.
Meta has said in an initial response that, “We’re committed to meeting the obligations under the code, and to providing young people with age-appropriate experiences”.