THE metaverse should be banned for children under 10 years old, a Scottish technology expert is warning.
Mark Evans says ‘extended reality’ (XR) including virtual reality (VR) headsets, combined with the new ‘virtual internet’ known as the metaverse could expose young people to criminals and abusers unless it is heavily regulated.
“We need universal governance that puts checks and balances in place to avoid our children and young people being exploited,” Evans says.
“I would even go as far as banning the metaverse for anyone under 10 years old.”
“Opt-in measures and privacy protections should be mandatory – and virtual worlds policed with heavy fines and imprisonment as a threat. More importantly, anyone entering the metaverse space on any platform should be vetted and checked with verifiable ID.”
Mark Evans is an immersive technology consultant and Founder/Chief Technology Officer of global tech company Nomadix Media.
He compares the metaverse to the Child Catcher character in the 1968 film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a scary villain who snatches and imprisons children by enticing them with free lollipops.
“Some things are not what they seem,” he says. “And I believe the same is true of the Metaverse. It is being billed as a safe space, a Nirvana-like place that is free of real-world prejudice, because gender, race or disability don’t exist.”
“But if the metaverse is a place where users can be anyone or anything, isn’t that also true for all the fraudsters, sex criminals and imposters waiting to take advantage of our young people?”
Evans suggests that lessons need to be learned from the Dark Web – the online underworld of anonymous illegal activity from drug dealing to pornography – before metaverses are created on the new internet.
There are already early warning signs, he says. These include global headlines about virtual sex parties on ROBLOX, a children’s game reportedly used by two thirds of American nine to 12-year-olds.
And on Facebook’s VR social media platform, Horizon Worlds, a woman reported being virtually groped by a stranger.
“My own view is that, before brands like Nike, Adidas or Disney can make any investment into the metaverse, there has to be regulation and data privacy protections with teeth” Evans says.
The metaverse is still in its infancy and there is a sprint by by big tech companies like Sony, Microsoft and Meta (formerly Facebook) to develop their own virtual world. Users will access the Metaverse using a VR headset or wearable lens.
Facebook recently changed its name to Meta and is investing $10 billion in AR and VR development. This includes rebranding its VR headset from ‘Oculus Quest’ to ‘Meta Quest.’
The social media giant plans to go beyond gaming and bring the metaverse to all aspects of our lives, including fitness, the workplace and social media.
Evans predicts the Metaverse will help big brands boost their profits and harvest valuable biometric and behaviour data – by offering virtual activities like branded events, concerts and even opportunities to hook up with celebrities.