Occurred: December 2021
A beta tester of Meta's new social virtual reality platform Horizon Worlds has revealed that her avatar was groped by a stranger, raising questions about the safety of metaverses and of Mark Zuckerberg's much-hyped new business direction.
The tester, who later revealed herself as Nina Jane Patel, detailed her experience in a lengthy blog post, describing her treatment as 'horrible' and akin to 'virtual gang rape'.
Safety tool efficacy
According to the Technology Review, Meta’s internal review of the incident found that the beta tester had not used the platform's 'Safe Zone' tool which enables users to lock themselves in a secure bubble away from other users until they signal they would like to exit it.
Shortly afterwards, Meta announced Personal Boundary, a default setting in the Horizon Worlds creation platform and the Horizon Venues live event service that 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.
In May 2022, a SumofUs researcher reported (pdf) being virtually raped having been encouraged by another user to turn off Personal Boundary. She described it as 'creating a very disorienting and even disturbing physical experience.'
Purpose: Provide virtual social experience
Technology: Virtual reality; Safety management system