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HTC Adds Kid Safety Modes to VR With Vive Guardian

A step in the right direction

HTC Vive Flow
VR needs kid safety settings. Vive Guardian could be the beginning of a necessary trend.
Russell Holly

VR has a kid problem right now. As more children use headsets like the Oculus Quest 2, there are more kids entering social VR platforms and chats where almost no kid profiles or safety settings currently exist. Meanwhile, harassment in the metaverse is turning into an increasing problem. HTC's new Vive Guardian feature, announced today, looks like a small step in the right direction: It limits access to apps while in-headset.

More importantly, it's a move from HTC acknowledging that kids are going to be in VR, even if it's not recommended for them (like Meta and others, HTC only suggests VR for people over the age of 13), and safety settings need to exist. HTC's Global Head of Hardware Products, Shen Ye, said to CNET that parents are already letting kids use VR: "We know it's unavoidable. We still want to make sure there are restrictions."

Meta, despite having a VR headset that's being increasingly used by kids, hasn't introduced any kid-specific safety features for its VR headsets beyond an ability for people to monitor content seen in VR on a connected nearby phone. Mark Zuckerberg told CNET last year that he doesn't see VR being addressed for kids anytime soon.

The Vive Guardian feature evolved from a kiosk mode HTC made for its business-focused Vive Focus 3 VR headset for when it was used in public places for things like demos. Apps can be blocked from use, disappearing from access and PIN codes set up to control unwanted purchases or access to apps. There's also streaming/monitoring of VR content to a connected phone, like Meta's Oculus Quest 2 already does, but HTC will also enable a mode where individual pieces of content like videos can be streamed to the headset on demand, too.

screen-shot-2022-02-24-at-6-12-43-pm.png

An illustration of how Vive Guardian might work to limit app or content access.

HTC

While Guardian doesn't seem to allow for true kid accounts, the feature effectively works like a profile, according to Ye. The next step needs to be enabling clearer safety settings in open social apps like AltSpace VR, VRChat, Rec Room and Meta's Horizon Worlds. While HTC isn't enabling that level of in-app safety, HTC's Shen Ye says the company's building out better guidelines for developers on how apps are built and listed, and admits that Vive Guardian is just the beginning of better safety measures: "It's the first step for us, making sure we can create a safe metaverse environment for kids."

Vive Guardian needs certain Android phones to work, and also particularly Vive VR devices. That's the downside, since HTC has largely moved away from consumer VR headsets until recently. The feature will work on the Vive Focus and Focus Plus (HTC's previous standalone VR headsets), and the Vive Flow, a more experimental phone-connected pair of VR glasses HTC released late last year. 

But, hopefully, HTC's safety moves will be the start of similar steps by other companies soon. HTC's VR kid safety move looks to be a small but necessary step. When will Meta make theirs?