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TCP Episode 123 -- The Metaverse: Virtual World, Real Dangers

Jethro Jones and Frederick Lane discuss the emergence of the metaverse and some of the issues it raises for parents.

TCP Episode 123 -- The Metaverse: Virtual World, Real Dangers
A Possessive Dog, Manhattan, New York (2022)
Table of contents

Listen to this episode on Cybertraps.com, Apple Podcast, or your podcast platform of choice.

Show Notes

News Item:
  • British Journalist Yinka Bokinni led production of a documentary, “Inside the Metaverse: Are You Safe?”, which is airing on UK Channel 4 later today
  • She posed as both a 22-year-old woman and a 13-year-old girl
  • The interactions horrified her
What Is the Metaverse?
  • Portmanteau of “meta” (“after” or “beyond”) and “universe” – so, “beyond the universe”
  • A vague and complex term for an online space, typically including virtual reality OR a virtual world (like Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft, World of Warcraft, etc.)
  • No clear-cut definition, no established rules
  • Few people fully appreciate how fast this will all happen
  • Heavy reliance on user-generated content (particularly in chat rooms), which is protected by Section 230
  • Headsets, glasses, contact lenses?
  • Most companies anticipate some sort of digital economy within those spaces
  • Some plans to incorporate physical sensations, like smell, touch, and sound
Who Can Access the “Metaverse”?
  • Users of Oculus Quest (now called “Meta Quest”), a popular VR headset
  • Apps are downloaded from the Oculus Quest Store that enable Oculus Quest users * to interact with each in virtual space
    Apps can be used with multiple VR devices, not just Meta Quest
  • Meta spokesperson:

We prohibit anyone under 13 from creating Quest accounts and design some experiences only for people 18 and over.
We have a suite of VR parental supervision tools to help parents and carers who choose to allow teens 13 and over to use the headset to monitor their use, limit the time they spend using it and ensure they take breaks.

Some Emerging Risks
  • More Difficult for Parents to Monitor What Children Are Doing
  • Distraction / Addiction
  • Economics
  • Fraud
  • Overspending on upgrades
  • Loss of Privacy
  • Physical Harms
  • Motion sickness from immersive reality
  • Discomfort / pain from wearing headsets too long
  • Desensitization to harmful behavior
  • Psychological Harms
  • Racism / Misogyny / Hate Speech
  • Crime
    ** Probably analyzed on the basis of harmful speech, not physical crimes
  • Sexual Harassment and Assault
    ** User can’t “feel” unwanted physical contact but is aware that other user is making those motions in their physical space
Safety Measures
  • Better Age Verification
  • Young children can get access to various examples of the metaverse
  • Better Enforcement of Age-Limited Content
  • Easy for young children to get access to sexualized material and view other forms of anti-social behavior
  • Parental Controls
  • Proximity Shields
  • Reporting Mechanisms
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