Meta, formerly Facebook
, has added a “personal boundary” system to its Horizon virtual reality platform in response to concerns over virtual harassment. The feature, which creates an invisible and impenetrable force field with an “almost four-foot” radius around individual avatars, will be turned on by default in both the Horizon Worlds creation platform and the Horizon Venues live event host, Meta revealed in a blog post on Friday.
While users can apparently still stretch their arms past the new no-go zone in order to deliver high-fives, fist bumps, and other less intimate forms of greeting, a Meta spokesperson revealed users would not have the option of disabling their personal boundaries even if they wanted to be “groped” or otherwise touched. Users who try to touch others will find their movement blocked, and the would-be recipient of the touch will feel nothing.
According to the blog post, the Metaverse’s grope-proof pods are meant to establish standards for how people interact across all VR platforms. While Meta left the possibility open of eventually being able to customize the size of the no-go zones’ radius, removing touch from the equation may have unexpected negative results for Meta’s popularity.
Given that much of the internet’s evolution has been driven by the porn industry, eliminating physical intimacy from Meta’s version of virtual reality is likely to limit its appeal to certain demographics – no small concern given the company’s recent stock market tribulations.
Horizon Worlds beta tester Nina Jane Patel claimed she was virtually “groped” – an accusation she later leveled up to “gang raped” – after plugging in to the virtual reality platform in November. Within just a minute of signing in, she wrote on her blog at the time, she was set upon by “3 to 4 male avatars, with male voices” who “essentially, but virtually gang raped my avatar and took photos.” She is the only beta tester to go public with such allegations, and has parlayed her notoriety into what she describes as a child-friendly Metaverse equipped with parental controls, called Kabuni.
After investigating the incident, Meta determined that Patel hadn’t taken full advantage of existing isolation features, including a block button – which she admits, arguing it happened too fast for her to even think of “putting the safety barrier in place.” While the company suggested it would make the block button and other options “trivially easy and findable,” this was apparently not sufficient for harassment-proofing the Metaverse. Previous iterations of VR social media platforms have included personal space bubbles as an option that can be turned on and off, but Meta opted not to go that route.