A new report out today reveals that many UK families are not aware enough of the metaverse and the significant risks it poses to online safety. It also asks, is the new Online Safety Bill already outdated before it’s even launched?
Ever since its conception, the metaverse has proven itself to be contentious, with no single definition accepted among industry and policymakers – yet it continues to receive ever increasing amounts of investment of time and resources.
New research released today by Internet Matters reveals that UK families face being left behind despite the hype surrounding the developing technology – with many of them unaware of the online risks.
Nearly half of parents (41%) say they don’t know much, or anything, about the metaverse*. An even greater proportion of children (53%) say the same.
Overall, just 33% of parents, and 15% of children, say they know a little or a lot about the metaverse and feel confident explaining it.
With nearly four out of 10 (37%) of parents saying their child uses the metaverse, and almost one in five (17%) using a VR headset in an average month, Internet Matters has launched a report which calls for greater consideration from the government and industry
of children’s needs around the issues.
The report looks to gauge how far parents and children in the UK today are familiar with the concept of the metaverse and spark much-needed conversations about the opportunities and risks associated with it.
While similar proportions of parents and children identify the benefits of the metaverse, children are much less likely than parents to see the risks, which is why parental involvement is crucial.
Children are much less likely to be concerned by the metaverse, with 6 in 10 identifying one concern and just 14% identifying three. Their most common concern is being spoken to by strangers (selected by 31%) followed by seeing things that upset them (24%), cyberbullying (23%) and worried about not being in the real world (23%).
The report shows there is a clear mismatch between parents and children – children don’t see the risks but their parents do. And whilst families recognise the potential of the metaverse, some respondents display a lack of trust or confidence in companies at the forefront of its development, raising serious questions about how the metaverse is being built and governed in a way that meets their needs Technology companies, Government and regulators need to work now to ensure that the metaverse is designed from the outset with children’s needs in mind and to support parents.
The report also raises questions about the UK’s Online Safety Bill. The UK’s Online Safety Bill is a landmark piece of legislation which is set to make technology companies more accountable for the safety and wellbeing of their users, especially children. However, while the Bill is the product of years of extensive development and consultation, it has been designed in a time when the metaverse is still nascent technology. Questions have therefore been raised as to how effectively it will apply to metaverse platforms.
While the metaverse has the potential to revolutionise many aspects of childhood and family life, there is a risk that children and parents are being left behind as the race to develop the metaverse continues.
Simone Vibert, Head of Policy and Research at Internet Matters said: “
“So much has been said about the metaverse, but our research shows that many parents and children are still in the dark about what exactly it is and the opportunities and risks it brings. Parents have a role to play in helping children to navigate this emerging technology, but they cannot do it alone.
It is vital that tech companies listen carefully to the needs and concerns of families as they race to build the metaverse. In the past, children’s interests have not been front and centre in the development of online services. The same mistake cannot be made again.
We must ensure that the regulation of online platforms included in the Online Safety Bill and Children’s Code will be equally effective in the metaverse.”
For more information on the metaverse, how to keep your children safe online and step by step guides, visit internetmatters.org
Source note for stats cited:
Internet Matters nationally representative of the UK, 2,000 parents of children aged 4-16 and 1,007 children aged 9-16 in the UK. June 2022