Andrew Bosworth on Meta’s next big challenge: Harassment in the metaverse

As it envisions a new crop of social apps in VR and beyond, Meta has to balance safety and privacy.

Andrew Bosworth

Andrew Bosworth wants to give developers tools to fight harassment, but not police everything that people do in VR.

Photo: Glenn Chapman/AFP via Getty Images

How do you keep people safe in the metaverse? That's a question Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, has been grappling with for some time. And the answer isn't all that simple.

The metaverse may be little more than a concept for now, but the safety problem is anything but theoretical: People regularly experience harassment in VR apps and experiences, including those running on Meta's Quest VR headset. Even the company's own employees are not immune. Earlier this year, an unnamed employee told co-workers in the company's internal Workplace forums that they had been accosted in Rec Room, with other players shouting the N-word at them without an obvious way to identify or stop the harasser. "Spoiler alert: I did not have a good time," the employee summarized.

The discussion, which became part of the public record when it was included in leaked Facebook documents supplied to Congress, shows that the problem is not isolated. One participant noted that similar cases are being brought up internally every few weeks, while another personally experienced harassment as well. "Multiple games have similar issues," one participant noted in the exchange.

Meta's head of consumer hardware and incoming CTO, Andrew Bosworth, told Protocol on Friday that the specific incident discussed in the leaked document could have been mitigated if the employee had made use of existing reporting tools. "The tenor of the post [is] overstated and misinformed," Bosworth said. However, he also acknowledged that the problem of harassment in VR is real. He laid out ways the company is aiming to solve it, while pointing to trade-offs between making VR spaces safe and not policing people's private conversations. "We have [to strike] a pretty tough balance between privacy and integrity," Bosworth said.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Are your current reporting options enough to fight harassment in VR?

I think the tools that we have in place are a good start. Blocking in virtual spaces is a very powerful tool, much more powerful than it is in asynchronous spaces. We can have someone not appear to exist to you. In addition, we can do reporting. This is a little bit similar to how you think of reporting in WhatsApp. Locally, on your device, totally private and secure, [you] have a little rolling buffer of what's the activity that happened. And you can say, "I want to report it," [and] send it to the platform developer or to us.

That kind of continuous recording is something you are only testing in Horizon so far, right?

It's a first-party tool that we built. It's the kind of thing that we encourage developers to adopt, or even make it easier for them to adopt over time. And we feel good about what that represents from a standpoint of a privacy integrity trade-off, because it's keeping the incidents private until somebody chooses of their own volition to say, "This is a situation that I want to raise visibility to."

But it's also just recording audio. How much does that have to do with the technical limitations of the Quest?

It's audio plus some metadata right now, [including which] users were in the area, for example. I don't think there is a technical limitation that prevents us from doing more. We're just trying to strike a trade-off between the privacy and the integrity challenges. That's going to be an area [where] we tread lightly, make sure [tools we roll out are] really well understood before we expand them.

You've been saying that you want to put privacy first when building new products for Meta. How does that conflict with building safe products?

Safety and privacy are highly related concepts and are both very high on our list of priorities. But, you know, even my friends say mean things to me sometimes. The path to infinite privacy is no product. The path to infinite safety is no social interaction. I don't think anyone's proposing we take these to their extremes.

The question is: What are healthy balances that give consumers control? And when you have privacy and safety trade-offs, that's super tough. The more [social VR spaces] are policed, the less privacy you're fundamentally able to ensure that people have. So it's case by case. There's not a one-size-fits-all solution on how to resolve those priorities when they compete.

You are also dealing with a space that's still very new, with a lot of VR games coming from relatively small companies. How can you help those developers fight harassment?

We want to build tools that developers can use, at the very least on our platforms. Identity is a strong example. If developers integrate our identity systems, even behind the scenes, they have a stronger ability to inherit things like blocks that suggest that two people don't want to be exposed to one another. There are tools that we can build — APIs, SDKs — that developers will be able to integrate. That's going to take time for us to build, but that's the direction we want to go in. Some of them we could potentially require for our own platform, some we would offer for those who choose to use [them].

As we move toward a metaverse world, what role will platform providers play in enforcing those rules? Right now, there seem to be two blueprints: game consoles, where companies have very strict safety requirements, and mobile platforms, where a company like Apple doesn't tell app developers how to do moderation. What will this look like for AR and VR devices in the future?

Our vision for the metaverse is very interoperable. We very much expect a large number of the social spaces that people occupy in the metaverse to be cross-platform. To have people in them who are on mobile devices, in VR headsets, on PCs or laptops and on consoles and more. So this is kind of my point: You have to give a lot of the responsibility to the person hosting the social space. Are they informing customers of what the policies are and what the risks are? And if they're informed, are consumers allowed to make that decision for themselves?

I don't want to be in a position where we're asserting control over what consumers are allowed to do in third-party applications, and what they're allowed to engage with.

How much does Meta's plan of getting a billion people to use the metaverse within the next decade depend on getting safety right from the get-go?

I think it's hugely important. If the mainstream consumer puts a headset on for the first time and ends up having a really bad experience, that's obviously deleterious to our goals of growing the entire ecosystem. I don't think this is the kind of thing that can wait.

Racism in VR by Protocol on Scribd


Musk’s texts reveal what tech’s most powerful people really want

From Jack Dorsey to Joe Rogan, Musk’s texts are chock-full of überpowerful people, bending a knee to Twitter’s once and (still maybe?) future king.

“Maybe Oprah would be interested in joining the Twitter board if my bid succeeds,” one text reads.

Photo illustration: Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images; Protocol

Elon Musk’s text inbox is a rarefied space. It’s a place where tech’s wealthiest casually commit to spending billions of dollars with little more than a thumbs-up emoji and trade tips on how to rewrite the rules for how hundreds of millions of people around the world communicate.

Now, Musk’s ongoing legal battle with Twitter is giving the rest of us a fleeting glimpse into that world. The collection of Musk’s private texts that was made public this week is chock-full of tech power brokers. While the messages are meant to reveal something about Musk’s motivations — and they do — they also say a lot about how things get done and deals get made among some of the most powerful people in the world.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.

Circle’s CEO: This is not the time to ‘go crazy’

Jeremy Allaire is leading the stablecoin powerhouse in a time of heightened regulation.

“It’s a complex environment. So every CEO and every board has to be a little bit cautious, because there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire told Protocol at Converge22.

Photo: Circle

Sitting solo on a San Francisco stage, Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire asked tennis superstar Serena Williams what it’s like to face “unrelenting skepticism.”

“What do you do when someone says you can’t do this?” Allaire asked the athlete turned VC, who was beaming into Circle’s Converge22 convention by video.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.


Is Salesforce still a growth company? Investors are skeptical

Salesforce is betting that customer data platform Genie and new Slack features can push the company to $50 billion in revenue by 2026. But investors are skeptical about the company’s ability to deliver.

Photo: Marlena Sloss/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Salesforce has long been enterprise tech’s golden child. The company said everything customers wanted to hear and did everything investors wanted to see: It produced robust, consistent growth from groundbreaking products combined with an aggressive M&A strategy and a cherished culture, all operating under the helm of a bombastic, but respected, CEO and team of well-coiffed executives.

Dreamforce is the embodiment of that success. Every year, alongside frustrating San Francisco residents, the over-the-top celebration serves as a battle cry to the enterprise software industry, reminding everyone that Marc Benioff’s mighty fiefdom is poised to expand even deeper into your corporate IT stack.

Keep Reading Show less
Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a writer-at-large at Protocol. He previously covered enterprise software for Protocol, Bloomberg and Business Insider. Joe can be reached at To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or


The US and EU are splitting on tech policy. That’s putting the web at risk.

A conversation with Cédric O, the former French minister of state for digital.

“With the difficulty of the U.S. in finding political agreement or political basis to legislate more, we are facing a risk of decoupling in the long term between the EU and the U.S.”

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Cédric O, France’s former minister of state for digital, has been an advocate of Europe’s approach to tech and at the forefront of the continent’s relations with U.S. giants. Protocol caught up with O last week at a conference in New York focusing on social media’s negative effects on society and the possibilities of blockchain-based protocols for alternative networks.

O said watching the U.S. lag in tech policy — even as some states pass their own measures and federal bills gain momentum — has made him worry about the EU and U.S. decoupling. While not as drastic as a disentangling of economic fortunes between the West and China, such a divergence, as O describes it, could still make it functionally impossible for companies to serve users on both sides of the Atlantic with the same product.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Latest Stories