Move is part of firm’s efforts to introduce child-safe experience for under-18s
Instagram will require all users to enter their birthdate before using the app, Facebook has announced, as part of the company’s efforts to introduce a child-safe experience for users under 18.
The requirement has been introduced just two days before the UK begins enforcing the age appropriate design code. The code requires companies to identify child users and take special effort to safeguard their personal data, limit attempts to alter their behaviour, and prioritise their wellbeing.
New users have been required to enter their birthdate as part of the sign-up process for the app since 2019 but, for the first time, existing users will be prompted to give their age upon opening the app. In the short term, dismissing the request will cause Instagram to blur posts that are marked as sensitive. However, Instagram will eventually require users to add their birthday to continue using the app at all.
“This information allows us to create new safety features for young people, and helps ensure we provide the right experiences to the right age group,” the company said in a statement. “Recent examples include changes we made in March to prevent adults from sending messages to people under 18 who don’t follow them, and last month we started to default new accounts belonging to people under the age of 16 into a private setting.”
Another set of updates from the company prevented advertisers from targeting audiences under 18 using any information other than their basic demographic information. That, too, will help the company comply with the age-appropriate design code.
Companies including TikTok and Google have also made major changes in the past month to how they treat child users. But not all have said that the upcoming UK legislation is the reason for the rash of product updates. In a statement last month, a Facebook company spokesperson said the move to tighten privacy settings for children “wasn’t based on any specific regulation, but rather on what’s best for the safety and privacy of our community”.
While Instagram does not require users to share proof that their birthdate is accurate, the company does use a variety of techniques to identify children who have entered fake information as part of the sign-up process. Specific details are kept secret, to prevent them being bypassed, but the Guardian understands that signals such as the makeup of a user’s friends list can flag accounts for further inspection.
Instagram’s latest update comes a day after the UK’s children’s commissioner, Rachel de Souza, called for compulsory age checks online. In an interview with the Telegraph, De Souza said social media firms would be pushed to introduce “strong” age verification.
“Ultimately, platforms cannot protect children online unless they know who the children are. Wouldn’t it be great if the tech companies did that voluntarily and took their responsibilities seriously, rather than try to avoid it. Surely, they don’t want children accessing this stuff online. They just need to bite the bullet on this one.”
As well as the age-appropriate design code, which requires platforms to design their sites in a child-centred manner but does not specifically mandate age verification, the UK has already passed legislation that would force online pornography to be hidden behind age-assurance technology. However, the government delayed implication of the so-called “porn ban” for more than two years, and ultimately scrapped plans to enforce the law entirely in October 2019.
As well as simple versions of age verification, such as scanning legal IDs or linking up with government databases, some companies now offer facial analysis technology, which can estimate a user’s age based on a selfie. The tech is already widely used in China, where it helps enforce laws limiting the amount of video games children can play.