Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta is adding a feature to combat virtual-reality harassment days after a woman said she was “virtually gang raped” in the company’s metaverse.
The feature, called “personal boundary,” will prevent other users’ virtual avatars from “invading your avatar’s personal space,” the company formerly known as Facebook said in blog post on Friday.
The feature will be rolled out within Meta’s Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues virtual reality worlds starting on Friday.
“If someone tries to enter your Personal Boundary, the system will halt their forward movement as they reach the boundary,” Meta said. “We believe Personal Boundary is a powerful example of how VR has the potential to help people interact comfortably.”
The feature will kick in if other users come within about four feet of each other, the company said.
The news comes after a British mom said she was “virtually gang raped” while beta testing Meta’s Horizon Worlds late last year.
“Within 60 seconds of joining — I was verbally and sexually harassed — 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,’” Nina Jane Patel, 43, wrote in a blog post.
In a statement to The Post on Tuesday, Patel called on Meta to introduce stronger anti-harassment features.
“Harassment in the metaverses is a serious issue that the industry needs to come together on to put in place the correct security controls and safety measures,” Patel said.
Fostering a clean reputation for the metaverse products is crucial for Meta as the company seeks to turn its unprofitable virtual reality division — which lost about $10 billion last year — into a money-maker as growth of its Facebook product stagnates. Zuckerberg has argued that the investment will pay off in the long term.
But the vast majority of Meta’s income still comes from selling ads on its social media sites — and in an earnings report on Wednesday, Meta said that the number of daily active Facebook users fell from 1.930 million to 1.929 million during the fourth quarter of 2021, representing the first drop in daily usage since the company’s founding 18 years ago.
The earnings report has spooked investors. Meta’s stock was trading at $230.21 on Friday morning — a decline of about 23% since the report.