The request by two Democrats comes as the EU's antitrust chief prepares a preemptive strike while metaverses are still in their infancy.
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A pair of U.S. senators wants to keep teenagers out of the metaverse.
Well, out of Meta's Horizon Worlds metaverse anyway.
Massachusetts Sens. Edward Markey and Richard Blumenthal wrote an open letter to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying they were concerned about reports that the parent of Facebook and Instagram is considering opening its adults-only virtual world to 13 to 17-year-olds.
The Horizon Worlds virtual reality is struggling to attract users, despite losing more than $13.7 billion to the project in 2022.
Pointing to what they called Meta's poor record of protecting children on social media as well as "a growing body of evidence pointing to threats to young users in the metaverse," the pair called for an "immediate halt" to such plans.
Specifically, Sens. Markey and Blumenthal were referring to a February report in the Wall Street Journal that the company was planning on opening up Horizon Worlds to teens as soon as this month.
The two largest blockchain based metaverse platforms, Decentraland and The Sandbox, both require users to be 18 years or older. And have some definitely age-inappropriate content, such as casinos.
On the other hand, both the non-blockchain Roblox and Fortnite allow younger players: Fortnite starts at 13 and Roblox is open to all ages — but both build their own content unlike open metaverses.
Rife with Harms
Calling the metaverse in general "an under-researched, potentially dangerous virtual realm" the Senators called on Meta to maintain the adults-only rating.
Pointing to reports claim Meta's planned excursion into teen users "is part of a larger effort to salvage Meta's struggling metaverse practice" the Senators said:
"Any strategy to invite young users into a digital space rife with potential harms should not be driven by a goal to maximize profit."
The WSJ reported that a memo said Meta's "competitors are doing a much better job meeting the unique needs of" teens and young adults. "For Horizon to succeed we need to ensure that we serve this cohort first and foremost."
Horizon Worlds track record has been so poor in this regard that in October, the company's top Metaverse executive, called for a "quality lockdown" as the company's own employees weren't using it very much.
Open to All
Meanwhile, the EU is taking a hard look at the potential for monopolies in the metaverse, the EU's antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, said in a speech on March 2.
"It's already time for us to start asking what healthy competition would look like in the metaverse," Vestager said, calling for "bold" action. She said:
"We need to anticipate and plan for change, because it is an obvious fact that our enforcement, our legislative processes, will always be slower than market developments."