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Microsoft Shutters Part of Its Social Metaverse for Safety Reasons

Changes to Altspace VR include safety bubbles, and some public spaces are going away.

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A virtual Burning Man concert in AltspaceVR in 2020. As virtual spaces get larger, safety concerns increase.
Microsoft

As many tech companies tout metaverse concepts that promise new ways to virtually interact, existing virtual worlds are starting to enforce new policies to deal with behavior problems that are already happening.

AltspaceVR, a social virtual worlds platform acquired by Microsoft in 2017, is making changes to protect visitors. Some of those changes include shutting down public spaces that AltspaceVR has used as common areas for years.

The changes are being made to curb concerns of harassment in VR, an area of increasing concern as more companies open up larger social spaces in pursuit of a collaborative metaverse.

The news was announced in a blog post Wednesday by Microsoft's Alex Kipman, who leads Microsoft's mixed reality efforts.

"As platforms like AltspaceVR evolve, it is important that we look at existing experiences and evaluate whether they're adequately serving the needs of customers today and in the future," Kipman writes. "This includes helping people better connect with those who have shared common interests while also ensuring the spaces they access are safe from inappropriate behavior and harassment."

Most notably, AltspaceVR is removing all of its hosted social space hubs, including its Campfire, News and Entertainment Commons spaces. These areas were default open areas where avatars could openly meet. While other open social worlds and events exist in AltspaceVR too, the removal of AltspaceVR's hub areas means fewer places to go, and could indicate a more event-focused approach in future. Other public spaces can exist, but would have to be created by others.

Read moreAs Facebook Plans the Metaverse, It Struggles to Combat Harassment in VR

AltspaceVR is making its personal boundary bubbles and camera-muting features turn on by default when the app is launched. Personal boundary bubbles, which aim to limit how close another avatar can be, is a feature that's also being added into competitor Meta's Horizon Worlds VR social spaces. 

Microsoft will require a Microsoft account for AltspaceVR logins, and will eventually link that to Microsoft Family Safety settings to approve or limit kids over 13 who might use the app. Meta still hasn't implemented family safety settings to its VR accounts yet, despite many kids already using Quest 2 headsets.

Kipman also promises increased moderation in AltspaceVR and better content ratings for events, which currently don't always represent how people behave inside a space anyway. It's unclear how those moderation efforts will specifically improve, or on what timeframe. Microsoft did not offer additional details when contacted for comment.

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