Instagram, the Facebook-owned photo and video-sharing platform, will require all new users to provide their date of birth in a move that the company says will help to keep young people safer.
Until now, Instagram has required users to be at least 13-years old before they can set up an account, but it hopes the new request for a birthdate will help to avoid the targeting of age-restricted products at children.
The policy change, which Instagram announced in a blog post this week, may also assuage criticism from charities and campaign groups that it and other social media firms are not doing enough to protect youngsters from age-inappropriate ads.
“Asking for this information will help prevent underage people from joining Instagram, help us keep young people safer and enable more age-appropriate experiences overall,” the blog post read.
“In the coming months, we will use the birthday information you share with us to create more tailored experiences, such as education around account controls and recommended privacy settings for young people,” it added.
Vishal Shah, Instagram’s head of product, elaborated on the new policy in an interview with Reuters, in which he said: “Understanding how old people are is quite important to the work we’re doing, not only to create age-appropriate experiences but to live up to our longstanding rule to not allow access to young people.”
He added that in the coming weeks Instagram will provide further options for users to improve their privacy settings, such as blocking messages from people they do not follow, and that their birthdates will not be visible to other users.
However, Instagram still won’t verify the date of birth information it is given, relying instead on people’s honesty and artificial intelligence to get a clearer idea of a user’s age.
This prompted the NSPCC, a UK children protection charity, to tell the BBC: “Asking users to provide an unverifiable date of birth will do nothing in practice to protect children from harmful or age-inappropriate content.”
The BBC’s technology correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones, was also unimpressed. “While Instagram is painting this new policy of demanding a date of birth as a child protection initiative, it will not verify that young users are telling the truth about their birthdays.”
“What it could do is enable the company to sell more advertising for age-sensitive products such as alcohol. At the moment, the company has to be ultra-sensitive about making sure such adverts are not seen by children.”
“Now that it knows – in theory at least – how old its users are, it should be able to target ads with greater confidence.”
Sourced from Instagram, Reuters, BBC; additional content by WARC staff