Jon Watson, Chief Product Officer at The Insights Family, explains how big brands and companies need to make sure they’re protecting young children with any new developments in technology.
The internet age has launched a series of new concerns regarding the safety of children. First there was the web1, the internet we all know. Next comes web2, the web generated by users, accompanied by the arrival of social networks. We are now witnessing the arrival of web3, the metaverse, the supposed next big leap forward in evolution.
It is no longer enough to protect children in the physical space, they must now also be protected in the virtual world. Social media, in particular, has allowed new threats to arise. These range from classmates harassing each other on digital platforms, to death threats and loss of life. This has led to both new legislation and opportunistic predators taking advantage of the anonymity social media offers to take advantage of younger users. As the data economy has advanced our society towards a society that has never been more interconnected and innovative, there has never been more opportunity for exploitation.
Top Online Safety Issues
Online safety is currently the fifth biggest concern among children aged six to nine in the UK (14%). This includes cyberbullying, privacy and non-consensual use of personal data. Children are more aware of online dangers than ever, which means they are more likely to act cautiously and seek out brands and products that protect their well-being. In fact, 58% of UK children in this age group agree that it is important that the products they buy are good for their safety. This has shaped the actions of major social media platforms. The top apps for this demographic are currently YouTube (34%), Roblox (15%), TikTok (5%) and Facebook (4%). In April this year, TikTok was sued for collecting and using data on children. The growing awareness of security issues will surely bring more scrutiny to these major players in the metaverse.
As concerns about mental health and the effects of social media continue to mount, the past year has also exposed us to what Mark Zuckerberg cites as the next frontier of social media and the internet in general – the metaverse – a new paradigm where users can play, meet and hang out online. Facebook’s announcement of the rebrand to “Meta” is the biggest statement of intent from an industry-leading social media company. Additionally, Microsoft and Disney have promised to offer metaverse experiences in the future. In China, Tencent made a similar proposal. But will their respective metaverses provide the best potential experience from a user perspective?
Case Study: Meta
Meta is certainly in a leadership position to provide the technological innovations needed to make a global virtual world a reality. While the metaverse experiences we’ve seen previously were created on gaming platforms, such as Fortnite and Roblox, Facebook’s user base is considerably larger. While Fortnite’s daily active users hit 3 million, Facebook’s number in the billions.
At The Insights Family, we have data that shows Fortnite and Roblox are two of the top five games in the world. In the UK, a total of 20% of 10-12 year olds identify one of these two titles as their favorite video game. 33% of UK tweens use Meta-owned WhatsApp, while 21% and 23% use Instagram and Facebook respectively. Globally, 50% of children between the ages of 13 and 15 use one or more of Meta’s apps.
The sheer scale of the social media giant’s user base means the network effect of introducing its users to virtual reality would be significant in creating autonomy. While the idea of an all-virtual world may not necessarily appeal to older generations, the time children spend online implies that it is a future created for them, specifically. This means that their safety in these worlds is paramount, as online safety concerns only grow as the experience becomes more immersive.
One obstacle to creating Meta’s vision of the metaverse is the accessibility of virtual reality devices. In our data, 3% of six to nine people globally currently own a virtual reality (VR) headset, compared to 47% who own a mobile phone or tablet with potential access to social media. Meta’s ownership of VR hardware company Oculus means they could make the devices a loss leader by bringing the technology to the masses. Additionally, ownership of VR technology grew by an average of +58% from Q4 2020 to Q4 2021 among 16-18 year olds globally, including a +65% increase in China specifically.
As more and more futuristic technologies emerge, security must be built in from the start. It is the responsibility of the main metaverse developers as well as governments and organizations to hold these companies accountable. Parents should seek to be educated about their children’s online activities and encourage open conversations that allow their children to feel safe talking about their experiences. The Metaverse can be a truly exciting space as long as the mental and physical health of those in it remain at the forefront of all considerations.
* All stats are from Kids Insights data for the last 12 months (August 2021 – August 2022). For more real-time information, visit: www.theinsightsfamily.com