Upon joining Meta's (Facebook) metaverse platform Horizon Venues, London-based Nina Jane Patel stated a group of three to four avatars s*xually assaulted her within 60 seconds of enrolling. While trying to flee, they raped my avatar virtually and snapped pictures of me trying to get away,” Patel stated in an article on Medium.com as co-founder and vice president of metaverse research firm Kabuni Ventures.
She said that virtual reality was developed so that the mind and body couldn't distinguish between virtual/digital experiences and the actual world.
“My physiological and psychological response was as if it had happened in real life,” she said.
Nina Jane Patel is a Kabuni Ventures co-founder and vice president of metaverse research. (Photo by Craig Hibbert, courtesy of Nina Jane Patel)
Patel told CNBC-TV18 via email that she froze as things quickly got out of her hands.
“I fiddled with the controls to employ the safety functions, such as block and report. But as I urged them to stop and ‘go away,' I realized I had to stop since their verbal harassment and sexual innuendos were becoming increasingly hostile.”
Patel removed the virtual reality headset, but she could still hear her assailants' laughter and voices saying, “don't pretend you didn't like it.”
To terminate the ordeal, she had to press the power button on the side of the headgear.
“Other than the assailants, I didn't notice any other avatars in the venue. I don't know their identities or the names of their avatars, so I can't complain or block them.”
Horizon Venues' avatar of Nina Jane Patel. (Photo courtesy of Nina Jane Patel)
“I'm not used to being addressed in such disrespectful terms; maybe in 1996, but not now.
The comments on my post ranged from ‘don't choose a female avatar, it's a simple fix,' to ‘don't be stupid, it wasn't real,' ‘a pathetic cry for attention,' ‘avatars don't have lower bodies to assault,' ‘you've never played Fortnite,' ‘I'm truly sorry you had to experience this,' and ‘this must stop.'”
Patel is a Ph.D. candidate studying the psychological and physiological effects of the Metaverse.
“I return to the metaverse as part of my work with Kabuni to continue considering methods to establish a safer metaverse for children,” she told CNBC-TV18. She is now concerned about whether she can allow her children to use such platforms, even with supervision, until the firms make them safer.
What is Metaverse?
The Metaverse, which translates as ‘beyond universe' or ‘parallel universe,' is an immersive virtual world where you can socialize using your virtual avatar. The phrase gained popularity after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg renamed the firm Meta in October 2021. He had previously stated that privacy and safety should be included in the Metaverse.
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Virtual reality headsets worn over the eyes are employed to engage with people on the Metaverse. Users can customize their avatars by changing their clothing, gender, haircut, face, and body traits. They can use cryptocurrencies to shop and even participate in events such as music performances and games.
Horizon Venues, announced by Facebook in 2020, is now available to Oculus Quest 2 users. According to the Oculus website, “your Facebook login is an all-access key to concerts, sports, comedy, and more.”
Dangers Loom Around an $800-billion Opportunity
The global Meta-universe, whose revenue opportunity might reach $800 billion by 2024, is under fire for being abused.
A user named JANET.woodville said on the Oculus website: “Last night, someone followed me around. I went to Venues this morning and encountered far too many perverts. I'm not returning until Oculus removes all the perverts and bullies.”
Another user, StarWillpower, stated: “Most of the occasions I've gone to see a show or a fight, there were either loud youngsters or someone following me around being inappropriate. I know they're avatars, but kissing my avatar is highly problematic.
Because his avatar was in the way, I couldn't even get to the menu to report him or leave.”
Another person wrote: “If you're searching for a safe environment for your kids to hang around, this is a no-go. I'd advise grownups to stay away as well.”
A Meta spokeswoman told CNBC-TV18 about Patel's experience via email: “We're sorry to hear about this.
We want everyone in Horizon Venues to have a positive experience, to readily find the safety resources that can aid in a scenario like this, and to assist us in investigating and taking action. Horizon Venues should be safe, and we intend to construct them that way.”
Several measures, such as block and report, are already in place, according to the business, to assist keep individuals safe when using VR. They also mentioned a feature called ‘Safe Zone,' which allows users to rapidly transfer into a distinct environment that provides a break from their surroundings and easy access to safety resources.