A U.K. bill on online safety, which has measures to prevent children experiencing harm online, will apply to the metaverse, lawmakers in the upper house of Parliament agreed on Wednesday.
The Online Safety Bill, brought forward on March 17, is nearing the final stages of approval before passing into law.
The metaverse, a superset of virtual realities, has gained widespread popularity in the last few years, with social media giant Facebook even rebranding to Meta to show its commitment to developing the sector. These virtual worlds also pose a risk to child safety, some regulators have argued.
“These virtual reality experiences are very immersive and the degree of harm that can be created and indeed the degree of enjoyment can be that much more intense,” Melanie Dawes, CEO at Ofcom, the U.K.'s communications regulator said during an event in October.
Through filming and analyzing 100 visits to the most popular worlds in Meta's flagship platform, Horizon Worlds, the Centre for Countering Digital Hate found that minors are routinely harassed.
Given the potential harm children can face in these virtual reality experiences, lawmakers in the U.K.'s House of Lords argued it was significant to ensure that the Online Safety Bill applied to the metaverse.
“The metaverse is in scope of the bill, which, as noble Lords know, has been designed to be technology neutral and future-proofed to ensure that it keeps pace with emerging technologies,” Lord Stephen Parkinson who is also a minister at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, said at a Wednesday debate on the bill. The department was also responsible for ushering in the Online Safety Bill.
The bill applies to “anything communicated by means of an internet service,” which includes things like objects or avatars created by users as well as interactions between users in the metaverse, Parkinson said.
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