Facebook's Instagram said it will require all new users from birthdays starting on Wednesday, expanding its audience for alcohol and other age-restricted products while offering new safety measures for younger users.
Until now, Instagram Except for limited circumstances there is a requirement of 1 billion users only to say that they are at least 13 years old.
Instagram said advertisers were not the driving force for the new requirement. Gambling and birth control are among other types of ads restricted to older audiences by Instagram policies and laws.
The policy change could help stave off passage of costly child safety and data privacy regulations as lawmakers and family safety groups in the United States, Britain, and elsewhere criticize the app for exposing children to inappropriate material.
The birthdate requirement is the latest step Instagram has taken to move away from longstanding principles such as anonymity that has kept it from Facebook's namesake app.
"Understanding how old people are quite important to the work we're doing, not only creates age-appropriate experiences but allows our longstanding rule to live up to young people," said Vishal Shah, the product of Instagram's head. An interview with Reuters.
It declined to specify age-based features in testing, but said age could be the basis for recommended privacy settings or in-app education about staying safe online. Birthdates will not be visible to other users.
In addition, Instagram will introduce in the coming weeks options for users to block messages from people they do not follow and for both businesses and popular users who are known as "creators" more easily restrict minors from viewing their posts, Shah said.
Scrutiny of Instagram increased as it overtook popularity among Facebook's main app among teens and young adults and became a leading contributor to Facebook's revenue growth.
Instagram will not verify birthdates because teens often cannot prove their age, and it will still be left without some existing users of birthdays. Instagram expects most people to be honest about birthdates and said artificial intelligence could eventually aid verification.
Jeffrey Chester, who focuses on kids' safety issues at the Washington-based Center for Digital Democracy, described Instagram's new policy as a "long overdue" step in coming up with US lawsuits preserving the online privacy of children under 13.
But the London-based National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty said children were asking for "an unverifiable date of birth that would protect nothing from harmful or age-inappropriate content."
Until now, Instagram requires birthdates only in limited circumstances.
Users who have merged their Instagram profile and Facebook account, which requires creating a birthdate, turned over the data. Minors in the European Union over the last 18 months also had submitted birthdates so the company could comply with the region's new data privacy law, known as GDPRGeneral Chat Chat Lounge
The existing birthdays, along with some rough analysis by the workers poring over posts mentioning "happy birthday" and other terms, have helped Instagram train machine learning software that predicts a user's age and gender. The automated prediction also takes into account the variety of posts. makes and the hashtags used.
Instagram employs its predictions to understand usage patterns by age and gender. But Shah said Instagram is reluctant to use predictions to personalize features or determine whether someone is lying about their age because of reliability and transparency concerns.
The forthcoming birthdate data will help improve accuracy, Shah said.
"It's important for us to use people's explicit (birthdate) input for now, but that might change," he said.
Current users who have not linked their Instagram and Facebook accounts will be able to add their birthdates starting Wednesday, but the company is still debating whether it will be too intrusive to make it mandatory, Shah said. Instagram knows some of those users are adults, for instance, because it asks them to say so before looking at profiles of alcohol and sexually explicit businesses.
© Thomson Reuters 2019
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