Two United States senators have recently sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook’s parent company Meta Platforms Inc., asking him to cease plans to release its Horizon Worlds metaverse app to teenagers. The senators, Markey and Blumenthal, believe that the release of the app could contain the same flaws as their Instagram and Messenger apps for kids, and could potentially expose teenagers to inappropriate content.
Horizon is a metaverse application that gives users access to virtual worlds and avatars, and was launched last December with the goal of reaching 500,000 monthly active users in the first half of 2023. To reach this goal, Meta decided in February to open Horizon to teenagers aged 13 to 17 later this month.
The senators cited Meta’s record of failure to protect their young-aged target audience from inappropriate content, such as a flaw in Messenger Kids allowing users to bypass restrictions and chat with strangers, and the presence of tobacco, alcohol, and eating disorder ads. Furthermore, a 2021 report found Instagram to be toxic for teen girls. They also noted that such failures have caused the platform to lose parents, pediatricians, and policymakers.
Moreover, the senators mentioned the potential threats that teenagers could face in the metaverse, such as collection of face and eye movement data, physiological damage, exposure to abusive behavior, and sexual content. In a statement sent to the Wall Street Journal, Senator Markey said: “Meta can’t protect the young people on its platforms now, so Mark Zuckerberg has no right to pull more teens into the wild west of the metaverse.”
In light of the potential risks, the senators have asked Zuckerberg to halt the plans to release Horizon to teenagers immediately. It remains to be seen whether Meta will heed the senators’ warnings and take the necessary steps to protect its young users.