Meta Shouldn't Open the Metaverse to Teens, Senators Say

Teens could reportedly have access to the Horizon Worlds metaverse app in March. Two Democrats are asking Meta to "halt this plan" over safety concerns.

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Andrew Blok is a former editor for CNET who covered home energy, with a focus on solar. As an environmental journalist, he navigates the changing energy landscape to help people make smart energy decisions. He's a graduate of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State and has written for several publications in the Great Lakes region, including Great Lakes Now and Environmental Health News, since 2019. You can find him in western Michigan watching birds.
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Meta's metaverse app could open to teens this month.

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Two Democratic senators are urging Meta to stop reported plans to open its metaverse app, Horizon Worlds, to teens. In a letter posted Thursday, Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Edward Markey of Massachusetts cited concerns over Meta's track record of teen safety on its other apps, including Instagram and its version of Facebook Messenger for kids.

"In light of your company's record of failure 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," the senators wrote.

Horizon Worlds is a virtual reality platform where users can build, meet and play games using a virtual reality headset. Virtual reality worlds have been found to have similar harassment problems as other corners of the internet. 

Blumenthal and Markey pointed to safety issues in other Meta apps, including workarounds that allowed kids using Facebook's Messenger Kids app to talk with strangers. And research has said Instagram can have a harmful effect on young people's mental health. Internal research by Meta showed that one in five teens said Instagram made them feel worse about themselves.

A Meta spokesperson declined to comment on the letter.

Meta hasn't confirmed it plans to open Horizon Worlds to teens, though it indicates it's looking into it. The move could reportedly happen this month.

"The Quest platform has always been designed for people ages 13+, so it makes sense we'd plan to introduce experiences for that audience in Horizon,"  a Meta spokesperson said in an email to CNET. "Teens are already spending time in a variety of VR experiences on Quest and we want to ensure that we can provide them with a great experience in Horizon Worlds as well, with age-appropriate tools and protections in place."

Last year, reports suggested that Horizon Worlds was attracting fewer users, for shorter visits, than Meta had hoped.