Facebook/Meta is adding parental controls to its virtual reality experiences, as pressure grows for it to prevent abuses of its “metaverse” technology.
Facebook rebranded to Meta last year amidst a push into virtual reality experiences that rely on immersive headsets.
The company has been selling Oculus VR headets since 2019, but until now no parental controls have been available.
Meta’s Instagram also began rolling out parental controls announced last year.
The moves come as the UK government brings in legislation to protect children online.
The Oculus Quest headset line is intended for users over 13 years of age.
The Quest 2 model became a popular seller last Christmas, with estimates indicating its mobile companion app was downloaded around 2 million times in the two weeks following the holiday.
The UK Information Commissioner’s Office said the headset could breach its online children’s safety code.
Currently Quest headsets allow users to set up an unlock pattern to gain access to the device. Meta said that starting next month users will be able to set up patterns for specific apps, allowing parents to block access to lock a particular experience.
In May Meta said it would add a feature automatically blocking teens from downloading apps rated as inappropriate for their age group. Quest profiles are linked to a Facebook account that includes age information.
Parents will be able to access the new controls from a Parent Dashboard, and Meta has also opened a Family Centre organising its controls for Oculus and Instagram, along with other parental resources.
The dashboard allows parents to link to a child’s account, but both parties must agree to do so.
Once the link is established, the parent can view the apps the child owns, be notified when the child makes a VR purchase, monitor how much time the child is spending in VR, and view a list of the child’s Oculus contacts.
“Providing age-appropriate and safe experiences for teens while also empowering them to explore in VR is a balancing act”, said Meta’s Oculus in a blog post.
The new Instagram controls allow parents to see how much time their child is spending on the app, set the hours in which the child can use it and receive updates about who they follow and are followed by.
The teenager will at first have to initiate the controls, but later parents will be able to do so with the child’s consent.
Last year the US and the UK governments intitiated investigations into Instagram’s safety for young people, after whistleblower Frances Haugen said Facebook was aware the platform was harming younger users.
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