Metaverse adds ‘personal boundary’ feature after virtual ‘gang rape’ controversy

Meta (formerly Facebook) has announced it will add an invisible 'Personal Boundary' feature to its VR metaverse following safety concerns.

Horizon, which is Meta's main 3D 'metaverse' where people can meet each other in a virtual world, will now prevent avatars from coming within four feet of one another. This is to try and prevent people from "invading your avatar's personal space".

The new feature won't alert you if someone tries to enter your Personal Boundary. Instead, it will just stop people in their tracks. The company says this compliments its existing "hand harassment" tool which makes your hands 'disappear' if you violate someone's personal space.

The announcement follows a number of reports of sexual harassment in the metaverse. In one case, a female beta tester said she was sexually harassed by a group of men within 60 seconds of logging into Horizon Venues, the VR world owned by Meta.

Nina Jane Patel said: "3-4 male avatars, with male voices, essentially, but virtually gang raped my avatar and took photos—as I tried to get away they yelled—'don't pretend you didn't love it' and 'go rub yourself off to the photo'."

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Patel noted that, although Horizon had a personal safety bubble feature at the time, the event happened so quickly she didn't have a chance to activate it. By activating Personal Boundary by default, Meta hopes to avoid similar issues in future.

"Personal Boundary prevents avatars from coming within a set distance of each other, creating more personal space for people and making it easier to avoid unwanted interactions," said Vivek Sharma, VP of Meta's VR 'Horizon' world.

He added: "We are intentionally rolling out Personal Boundary as always on, by default, because we think this will help to set behavioural norms – and that's important for a relatively new medium like VR."

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