Meta is opening up its Horizon Worlds social VR platform to teens in the US and Canada in the coming weeks, the company announced on Tuesday. For teen players, which Meta defines as between the ages of 13 and 17, Meta will have some extra features in place to help provide a safer experience on the platform.
Teen profiles will be private by default, for example, and Meta won’t show a teen’s online status unless they choose to flip that on. Its “voice mode” feature that turns voices of people you don’t know into “quiet, friendly sounds” and garbles your own voice will also be on for teens by default. Meta won’t show any adults that a teen player doesn’t know in the “people you might know” tab. And the company says it has expanded its VR parental supervision tools to Horizon Worlds.
The expansion to teens could bring more players to the platform, which has reportedly struggled to keep users. But the move has faced some criticism. The Wall Street Journal reported in February that Meta planned to open Horizon Worlds up to teens, and in March, Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) wrote a letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg calling on him to halt the plans. “Meta’s plan to target young people with offerings in the metaverse is particularly concerning in light of your consistent failures to protect young users,” the senators wrote. “With a documented track record of failure to protect children and teens, Meta has lost parents’, pediatricians’, policymakers’, and the public’s trust.”
Despite that opposition, Meta is moving forward with the launch. “Meta has a record of abject failure to protect children and teens, and yet again, this company has chosen to put young users at risk so that it can make more money,” Markey said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal.
In opening up Horizon Worlds to teens, Meta is making it more of a competitor with other metaverse-y platforms like Fortnite and Roblox, which also have special features designed to help protect younger players. Meta is also expected to bring Horizon Worlds to the web and mobile sometime “soon.”