REPORT: Meta VR headsets may pose safety risks for minors

Media Contacts
R.J. Cross

Director, Don't Sell My Data Campaign, U.S. PIRG Education Fund; Policy Analyst, Frontier Group

BOSTON – Meta’s Quest virtual reality (VR) headsets may pose potential safety and health risks for minors, a new update from U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Trouble in Toyland report cautions. PIRG testing found that Meta allows children ages 10 to 12 to have accounts, yet fails to address some pressing problems, including access to inappropriate content.

Meta lowered the recommended minimum age for its VR headsets from 13-years-old  down to 10 earlier this year, shortly after announcing the release of its latest Quest 3 model in time for the holidays. It rolled out new kids’ accounts for ages 10 to 12 in September, with parental features including control over what apps their child downloads.

“Meta says it’s committed to creating safe and positive experiences on Quest. Our testing found real problems remain,” said R.J. Cross, director of U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Don’t Sell My Data campaign. “Meta’s current efforts are not enough to guarantee a healthy experience for children.”

Playing on a Meta Quest 3 headset as a 10-year-old, U.S. PIRG Education Fund  researchers tested Rec Room, a game rated “E for Everyone ages 10 and up” and currently one of the most popular games available in Meta’s Quest app store. The app quickly recommended that the “10-year-old” play a game of Russian Roulette with real players. Within moments, a player sitting across from the virtual 10-year-old shot himself in the head.

“This is one of the most popular apps Meta has on its app store, it’s rated OK for 10-year-olds and it’s free,” said Cross. “You can imagine parents saying it’s alright for their kids to play this game. Meta’s kids’ accounts give you little warning this game hosts and promotes content that extreme.”

Meta currently faces a historic suite of lawsuits from 42 state attorneys general across the political spectrum alleging the company’s own internal research showed its social media platform Instagram was harming teens and that it hid that research from the public. The lawsuits also allege Meta failed to remove features it identified as doing harm.

“Has Meta tested the impacts of virtual reality technology on children?” said David Monahan, Campaign Director at the non-profit Fairplay. “Do they know of risks which they are not disclosing? Considering Meta’s alleged track record of ignoring internal research about kids’ wellbeing and moving ahead with its business interests, I’m wary of letting my child — or any child, for that matter — accept Meta’s invitation to its virtual reality worlds.”

Some children’s health experts recommend that parents avoid the technology this holiday season and for the foreseeable future.

“We know our children are facing a mental health crisis,” said Dr. Mark Bertin, a developmental pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at New York Medical College. “We know social media and screen use are big contributors. Introducing yet another technology — especially one as immersive and new as virtual reality — could have real ramifications for the development of long-term social-emotional well-being, cognitive skills like focus and for regulating behavior in general. Until we know more, it just isn’t worth the risk right now.” 

“Parents should wait to buy these VR headsets until Meta proves they are safe and that we can trust them with our children and teens,” said Cross.

Contact: R.J. Cross, [email protected]