Because there’s no escaping creeps on the Internet, Meta (formerly known as Facebook) has launched a new “Personal Boundary” feature for its virtual reality platforms to combat harassment.
This Personal Boundary establishes an invisible barrier between avatars that spans almost four feet, Horizon Vice President Vivek Sharma explained in a blog post. The feature, which is enabled by default, began rolling out Friday to Horizon Worlds as well as Meta’s virtual events platform, Horizon Venues.
If someone tries to step into your avatar’s personal bubble, the system will halt them in their tracks. There won’t be any haptic feedback for the user in these instances, meaning they won’t feel like they’ve bumped into anything if a creep tries to get too close. That being said, users will still be able to move past another avatar if need be, Meta spokesperson Kristina Milian told the Verge, so trolls won’t be able to use these barriers to terrorize other users by blocking entrances or trapping people in virtual spaces. And you can still give other users a fist bump or high five by stretching out your arm.
Shortly before the company expanded access to its social VR platform Horizon Worlds to adults in the U.S. and Canada in December, a beta tester reported being virtually groped by a stranger. The Personal Boundary system builds upon Meta’s previous measures to stop harassment on its virtual platforms, such as making an avatar’s hands disappear when they invade someone else’s personal space.
Other more established VR social spaces such as VRChat and Rec Room have long offered similar features, including the ability for users to customize the size of their avatar’s personal bubble or get rid of it altogether. In Friday’s blog post, Sharma said Meta plans to explore the possibility of folding in additional controls and UI changes like letting users change the size of their avatar’s Personal Boundary.
“We believe Personal Boundary is a powerful example of how VR has the potential to help people interact comfortably,” he wrote. “It’s an important step, and there’s still much more work to be done. We’ll continue to test and explore new ways to help people feel comfortable in VR.”
It’s nice to see Meta take a proactive approach for once and try to head off abuses on its platforms before they become rampant. Though it’s worth noting that this announcement comes at a time when Meta’s stock price and user base are taking heavy hits in the wake of countless scandals and lawsuits that have younger users, in particular, abandoning ship for other platforms. Giving a middle finger to perverts trying to harass people that just want to chill and hang out virtually is an easy PR win.