The Information Commissioners’ Office or the ICO is scheduled to talk to Meta about how its virtual reality or VR business Oculus complies with the watchdog’s children’s code.
The code aims to ensure that online services that can be easily accessed by children are appropriate for their use.
Meta to Talk to ICO
According to the BBC, a campaign group recently found evidence of harassment of users under 18 years old in a popular third-party VR chat app. Meta announced that it is working to implement the code with the ICO to make VR safer for children.
The company said in a statement that they are committed to meeting the obligations under the code and they want to provide young people with experiences that are safe and age appropriate. Meta’s Oculus is also being investigated as it is beinged alleged that it is bad for the eyesight and it could harm children.
The users of Oculus Quest needs to be over 13 years of age and the firm’s guidance says that adults should monitor how their children use the Oculus devices.
However, crossbench peer Beeban Kidron, who is the architect of the children’s code applied online, said that she was concerned the checks were insufficient.
Kidron told The Guardian that children using VR headsets like Oculus Quest can access chat rooms and other features that are known to carry risk by just ticking a box declaring that they meet the minimum age requirements.
Recently, the issue of child safety in virtual reality was raised by the Center for Countering Digital Hate or CCDH. The campaign group looked at a popular third-party app called VRChat to review the procedure.
The app works on several platforms including Oculus where it is available in the VR headset’s app store, according EnglishTime.
CCDH claimed its research found instances where users under 18 years old were exposed to graphic sexual content. Some users suffered online bullying, abuse, and even sexual harassment. Other underage users were groomed to repeat racist slurs and extremist talking points.
The VRChat app allows users to create virtual environments or “worlds” in which to interact with others.
According to the report, researchers visited one user-built environment “themed as a sex club that nonetheless states it is suitable for children aged 13+ and up.”
VRChat’s community guidelines state that harassment is not permitted, that “pornography and nudity are not allowed” and that it does not allow “hate speech, including language, symbols, and actions.”
The ICO said that they are planning to discuss with Meta on its children’s privacy and data protection by design approaches to Oculus products and virtual reality services.
Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, also expressed concerns about the safety of virtual environments.
Burrows said that children can evidently be exposed to harmful and inappropriate content when using Oculus. He added that this raises substantive questions about whether Meta has met its regulatory requirements in the children’s code.
In a statement, Meta said they are working to implement the standards within the Age Appropriate Design Code (children’s code), in consultation with the ICO.
Meta said that this is a continuous effort on our part which takes into account developing technologies, guidance and understanding around the digital environment, and how young people interact with it.
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Written by Sophie Webster
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