Government scrutiny of how tech companies handle their underage users is continuing to heat up. A flood of bills in Congress on this topic seeks to strengthen the power of regulators and even ban kids under 13 from social media entirely.
Enter Meta, which is lowering the minimum age for its Quest headsets from 13 to 10. After I heard about the plan and contacted Meta for comment this week, spokesperson Joe Osborne confirmed it and shared a blog post about the news that the company is planning to publish soon. It says that parents will have to approve the creation of a kid’s account and that Meta will only recommend apps that are rated safe for that age group. Ads also won’t be shown to kids.
Perhaps most importantly, a 10 to 12-year-old’s Meta profile and avatar, which the Quest uses for all kinds of apps, will be set to private by default, “meaning people won’t be able to follow preteens without their or their parent’s approval.” Meta’s blog post says that only parents can turn this safety feature off. And Horizon Worlds, the open-world, legless social platform for the Quest, will remain a 13-and-up experience, at least for now.
It’s easy to see why Meta is doing this. The company knows that kids want to use VR headsets, and it’s better to give them a more restricted experience than just let them lie about their age. If I had to guess, Meta also wants to get ahead of any potential lawsuits or fines, like the $520 million one recently levied by the FTC against Epic Games. In that case, the agency found that “Epic was aware that many children were playing Fortnite,” which, duh. Now Meta can at least say that it offers an underage option with strict parental controls.
Even if this is a good move on Meta’s part, it knows it’s a sensitive subject that will likely result in more angry Senate letters. The company tried its best to keep the plan, codenamed “Project Salsa” internally (spicy, I guess?), from leaking. It required involved employees to sign a separate legal disclosure and mark docs as “A/C privilege,” should the FTC still come knocking.
This story first ran in today’s edition of my Command Line newsletter, which you can sign up for below:
Update June 16th, 11:50AM ET: Added link to Meta’s blog post.