Metaverse allows kids into virtual strip clubs
Credits: BBC News

Metaverse allows kids into virtual strip clubs

Some apps in the virtual-reality metaverse are “dangerous by design”, the NSPCC has warned in response to a BBC News investigation.

A researcher posing as a 13-year-old girl witnessed grooming, sexual material, racist insults and a rape threat in the virtual-reality world.

In VRchat, the researcher was able to visit virtual-reality rooms where 3D avatars were seen simulating sex. She was shown sex toys and condoms, and said she was approached by numerous adult men.

Metaverse allows kids into virtual strip clubs
Credits: Medium

They are able to watch pole-dancing and mix freely with adults, which has led to grooming, racism and rape threats. The Children’s Commissioner for England called on tech firms to ‘get a moral compass’ and crack down on the virtual world.

While not created by Meta itself, the app can be downloaded from an App Store on the Meta Quest headset, previously known as the Oculus Quest. The app has no age verification checks, and only requires the person to have a Facebook account.

The technology, which makes up 75 per cent of the market, was one of those used by the BBC journalist to explore the VRChat app. Meta’s version is called Horizon.

VRChat is not made by Meta but can be downloaded from Facebook’s Meta Quest headset app store without any age restriction. The name refers to online spaces where people using virtual reality headsets access games, but they can also meet others for work and social experiences.

Credit: The Economic Times

Child safety campaigners slammed tech companies and called on them to make the virtual world safer. Dame Rachel de Souza said she was ‘really horrified’ by the BBC report and the NSPCC called for urgent improvements.

Dame Rachel said firms are still not doing enough to make these online spaces safer for children. Meta responded saying it has no responsibility for the app because it did make it.

“We provide tools that allow players to report and block users,” a rep said. “We will continue to make improvements as we learn more about how people interact in these spaces.”

Jake Moore, a security advisor at ESET said the metaverse has enabled users to create new situations and locations in a fantasy realm but “unfortunately this has led to its creativity being abused by a number of users who will ultimately ruin it for younger audiences”.

“The metaverse is still very young and regulations are far from being ready to be able to police this new virtual world,” he explained.

“Meta must design the platform with security, privacy and safety in mind but sadly profits are clearly dominating at present whilst it finds its feet.

“If younger users are tipped to be the generation to take it on then Meta must enforce better protection and safety measures for all audiences.”