It was THE big-ticket item for many Aussie kids this Christmas. But how safe is that VR headset, - and what can parents do to ensure their kids’ virtual reality adventures stay positive?
Meta’s virtual reality Oculus app was the most downloaded software in the world on Christmas Day, as sales of the headset hardware exploded in the lead-up to the holidays.
Virtual reality entertainment is no longer coming. It’s here, and our kids are jumping on board faster than you can say “metaverse.”
But experts are saying that parents who bought their kids a ticket to ride, in the form of their own VR headset, may be in for a shock.
The world of virtual reality, aka the metaverse, “is a haven for hate, pornography and child grooming” that “connects users not just to each other but to an array of predators,” according to the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a London- and Washington, DC-based nonprofit that advocates for digital responsibility by Big Tech.
“Any parent who gifted Facebook’s VR Oculus headset for Christmas needs to be aware that they are potentially exposing their children to serious danger.”
Unsafe at any speed?
VR headsets are not safe for kids full stop, according to the CCDH, which found the popular chatroom service VRChat, which is available on Oculus, to be “rife with abuse, harassment, racism and pornographic content.”
Researchers found users - kids included - are exposed to abusive behavior every seven minutes, including:
Researchers identified 100 potential violations of Meta’s policies for VR in 11 hours and 30 minutes of recordings of user behavior in the app. Yet it found the company was unresponsive to all reports of abusive content.
It’s no surprise that Oculus Quest 2, Meta’s bestselling headset, has no parental control option to block 18+ content and other inappropriate and/or risky material.
Child safety features are also missing from other popular headsets - including HTC’s Vive and Valve’s Index.
The good news? The Family Zone Box - a device that lets parents manage unlimited devices in the home that connect to your WiFi, including gaming consoles, smart TVs, desktops, laptops, & guest devices - also works on VR headsets. (Learn more here.)
VR headsets don't necessarily need to be connected to the internet after the initial set-up. So another way to minimise dangers is to keep headsets offline, and restrict use to games you’ve already downloaded and approved. This will prevent your kids from roaming the metaverse at will and stumbling onto risky content.
Meta, Facebook’s recently rebranded parent company, has pointed out that its terms of service prohibit accounts for under-13s and that all Oculus content is rated through the International Age Rating Coalition. Critics counter that age verification procedures are functionally non-existent.
Concerned about the impact of VR on kids’ vision and brain function? So are many experts. Stay tuned to Family Zone blogs for updates on the latest research as it happens.
Manage every device that connects to your home network - VR headsets included! - with the simple-to-set-up Family Zone Box.
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Topics: Cyber Bullying, Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, Excessive Device Usage, online safety, VR headset, Oculus, virtual reality
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