Microsoft’s social VR platform AltspaceVR is getting rid of social hubs to crack down on online harassment, the company announced Wednesday morning. Altspace is also instituting additional safeguards by default, and it will require people to use Microsoft accounts in the coming weeks — a measure that is meant to help parents keep their young children out of Altspace.
“Everyone should always feel safe in experiences like AltspaceVR,” wrote Microsoft Technical Fellow Alex Kipman, who leads the company’s AR and VR initiatives, in a blog post. “We have a responsibility to establish guardrails and we look forward to sharing more as we continue this journey with you.”
Altspace is one of the oldest social VR platforms and was acquired by Microsoft in 2017. Over the years, there have been repeated reports of sexual harassment in Altspace, which included complaints about incidents happening in social hubs, which are open, town square-like spaces that can be entered by anyone, and were meant to give newcomers a way to take their first steps in VR.
Microsoft’s response to this is now to shut down these spaces. The company is also turning on, by default, people’s personal safety bubble, which prevents others from coming too close, and going forward, people will be automatically muted when they enter an event.Altspace is not the only social VR platform struggling with moderation issues. Meta’s Horizon has been trying to make it easier for users to report harassment, and incoming Meta CTO Andrew Bosworth recently told Protocol that it was important that the industry got safety in VR right. “I don't think this is the kind of thing that can wait,” he said.