Metaverse is ‘playground for pedophiles as sex offenders can groom kids’

THERE’S almost nothing preventing sexual predators from joining the metaverse and grooming kids for sexual exploitation, experts have warned.

That creates “very real fears” the metaverse will become a breeding ground for sex offenders to share child abuse images and force kids into sex acts and prostitution, lawyer Patrick Roberts told The Sun.

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Users can access the metaverse through virtual reality headsets, among several other avenuesCredit: Getty Images – Getty
'Child-friendly avatars' may make it easy for unassuming tweens to be victimized by a sexual predator

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‘Child-friendly avatars’ may make it easy for unassuming tweens to be victimized by a sexual predatorCredit: YouTube
Epic Games and LEGO announced a mega team up into the metaverse

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Epic Games and LEGO announced a mega team up into the metaverseCredit: Lego / Epic / Kotaku

Users create avatars in the metaverse that roam the rapidly developing and immersive 3D digital world and interact with people from around the globe.

“The metaverse’s one-to-one, immersive conditions make it easier for
bad actors to persuade, mislead and manipulate,” according to a March 2022 Common Sense Media report.

“The deceptive possibilities of bots, ‘deep-fakes,’ AR-altered realities are daunting, especially for tweens, who will have trouble discerning what or who is real.”

Roberts, of the North Carolina-based Roberts Law Group, said it’s “easy” to go from the metaverse to video chats to distribute explicit material.

“We’re talking about a matter of minutes,” he said.

“Predators meet kids through child-friendly avatars, gain their trust in the metaverse and then take their interactions offline.

“That can mean meeting up in real life or chatroom conversations and video chats where a child can be talked into disrobing.”

The warning comes at a time when Epic Games, which developed the popular game Fortnite, and LEGO announced a “long-term partnership to shape the future of the metaverse.”

The promising mashup of the two mega companies is being billed as a “family-friendly digital experience” for kids to play “in a safe and positive space,” according to the companies’ April 7 joint statement.

The statement specifically mentioned protecting children’s privacy and safety in their statement, but didn’t say how that will be done.

The technology to track online chats and interactions doesn’t exist at the moment, and there are very laws on the books that would protect children from cyber crimes, law professor Jon Bandler.

Bandler, a former Manhattan prosecutor who teaches cyber security New York’s Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, said the only law he can think of that is currently on the books is COPPA.

COPPA – which stands for Child Online Privacy Protection Act – is a federal law that protects websites that appeal to children (under 13) from collecting their information.

Most metaverse games and worlds require users to be age 13 or older.

But there’s currently no age or ID verification in place, according to Bandler and Roberts, and Roberts said he doesn’t know if one could be created because it may infringe on privacy laws.

So as it stands now, a 10-year-old can say he/she is 25 while a sexual predator can pretend to be 13.

“Bad people will always do bad things,” Bandler said. “Before the internet, you can only be victimized if you were close, physical proximity. The internet changed that.

“But the internet has been around awhile and social media has been around awhile, so I’m not sure if this is a new threat… It’s a new twist and a new tool.”

Meta (formerly Facebook), Epic Games or LEGO couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

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Nearly a year ago to the day, Epic Games announced a $1 billion investment into shaping the metaverse, and that’s just one of dozens of companies pouring money into this digital frontier over the last year.

The possibilities are endless for the metaverse, which could replace the internet one day, and companies are barely scratching its surface.

But with booming possibilities lurk an unknown, criminal underbelly in an unregulated space that includes so many children.

The March 2022 Common Sense Media report said millions of children already use “non-immersive gaming systems” to connect to virtual worlds like Roblox and Fortnite.

In 2021, Roblox reported it had over 100 million monthly users under 13 years old in 2021.

“Wall street wants to invest, but you’re not hearing anything from someone like (US Attorney General) Merrick Garland. There haven’t been any task force announcements,” Roberts said.

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“I’m not aware that the government has even talked about developing a framework. We’re still trying to regulate cryptocurrency and bitcoin, and that gained popularity two or three years ago.

“So we’re probably five to 10 years away from any significant regulations on the metaverse, and by then the ship may have passed us by and we’re on to something else.”

LEGO is entering the metaverse, according to an April 7 announcement

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LEGO is entering the metaverse, according to an April 7 announcementCredit: TT Games
An iteration of the metaverse has been around for years - mostly in games - but companies are beginning to realize they're scratching the surface of its potential

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An iteration of the metaverse has been around for years – mostly in games – but companies are beginning to realize they’re scratching the surface of its potentialCredit: Roblox/Ralph Lauren

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