The Battle for Virtual Reality Supremacy Intensifies as Meta Platform Expands Access to Preteens

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The corporate parent of Facebook and Instagram, Meta Platforms, is set to open a digital gateway for children as young as 10 years old to venture into the realm of virtual reality using the Meta Quest headset. Despite growing concerns about excessive social media usage among youngsters, Meta Platform, which oversees the social media empire created by Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg, has announced its intention to lower the minimum age requirement for a Quest account from 13 to 10 years old.

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This move, revealed in a blog post, aims to present a family-friendly opportunity for more individuals to explore the artificial realms known as the "Metaverse," a concept championed by Zuckerberg. However, this endeavor to entice preteens into a virtual world teeming with digital avatars and technological fabrications arrives shortly after U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy urged tech companies and lawmakers to safeguard children from the potential negative mental and emotional consequences associated with excessive social media exposure.

Concerns Mount as Meta Platforms Targets Preteens for Virtual Reality Exploration

For years, both Facebook and Instagram have faced criticism for utilizing strategies that foster addiction to social media among young users, eroding their real-life relationships with friends and family, while also exposing them to the risks of online bullying and sexual predators. In their blog post, Meta assures that parents will retain control over their children's accounts for the Quest 2 and Quest 3 headsets. Additionally, preteen access will be restricted to "age-appropriate" virtual reality applications (VR) and acquiring a Quest account will require explicit parental approval. The company emphasizes that all apps used on the platform will also necessitate parental consent. To further protect children, Meta recommends enforcing a two-hour daily time limit on headset usage for this younger age group. Other measures include defaulting all preteen accounts to a private setting and ensuring they are not subjected to revenue-generating advertisements that are prevalent on Meta's platforms.
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Parental Control and Safety Measures Promised as Meta Platform Lowers Minimum Age for Quest Accounts
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In its blog post, Meta underscores its commitment to responsible innovation and the creation of safe and positive experiences for young individuals. Furthermore, the company offers extensive guidance to parents contemplating whether to allow their 10- to 12-year-olds to engage with virtual reality headsets. One section of the guide highlights the growing body of research exploring the positive effects of VR in medical contexts, including interventions that aid the development of social skills, alleviate pain and anxiety during medical procedures, and support skill development in specialized populations such as children with cerebral palsy.

By expanding the potential user base for the Quest, Zuckerberg appears to be taking a significant stride towards his vision of shaping the Metaverse into a realm that will rival the popularity of Facebook and Instagram, both of which he initiated nearly two decades ago in a college dorm room. Despite the sale of millions of Quest headsets, the metaverse remains largely unpopulated. The Meta division responsible for the Quest headset and metaverse encountered a loss of $13.7 billion last year, despite generating $2.2 billion in revenue. 
Additionally, Meta now faces formidable competition from Apple, which recently unveiled its own high-end virtual reality headset called Vision Pro. Although priced at $3,500, the Vision Pro garnered enthusiastic responses during carefully orchestrated demonstrations but will not be available for purchase until early next year. To encourage more sales prior to the Vision Pro's release, Meta has already announced that the next Quest headset will retail for $500. Simultaneously, the company is taking steps to engage preteens in its virtual reality ecosystem.

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