Instagram Tests Child ‘Age Verification’


Instagram logo on phone | Image by Shutterstock

Instagram announced it is exploring new ways to address long-standing concerns of lawmakers and parents about user age verification on its platform.

Different tools that can verify user age will be rolled out and tested in the United States before being released to the rest of the world. However, they will not be deployed for new users at the point of signup.

Instagram, a platform owned by Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms Inc., will require age verification when users try to change their birth date on their accounts to make them 18 years or older.

Users ages 13-17 can use Instagram with some limitations. Instagram seeks to provide “age-appropriate experiences” for its minor users by “defaulting them into private accounts, preventing unwanted contact from adults they don’t know and limiting the options advertisers have to reach them with ads,” the company explained.

Instagram is experimenting with three options: asking adult Instagram friends to vouch for the person’s age, uploading IDs to the platform, or submitting “selfie” videos that can be “analyzed for an age estimate.”

Instagram announced on June 23 that it entered into a partnership with Yoti, a London-based organization specializing in verifying users’ age online. Yoti will receive a video “selfie” and use the file to estimate the user’s age.

The company’s chief policy and regulatory officer, Julie Dawson, indicated that Yoti’s files would not be sold to third parties or be used to train the company’s algorithm.

Aside from its new age-verification tools, Instagram will also allow users to report accounts they believe could be owned by underage persons so they can be reviewed.

This announcement comes in the context of increased attention on how children and teens can be protected on social media. Research by Meta, published by The Wall Street Journal, indicated that Instagram worsened almost one-third of teenage girls’ struggles with their body image.

Instagram first prompted users to disclose their age in 2019. In 2021, the company made it mandatory for all individuals who signed up for new accounts to disclose their age.

However, a study by The Social Institute and reported by the WSJ suggested that younger users disregard these rules. According to the survey, 47% of the 3,000 high school-aged participants opened Instagram accounts before the minimum required age of 13.

Stephen Balkam, Family Online Safety Institute chief executive, said that age verification systems should balance data security against user privacy when gathering information to determine a user’s age.

Meta said it would store the age verification IDs for only 30 days before deleting them to protect users’ data. In its agreement with Yoti, the video “selfies” will be immediately deleted after being used for verification.

Erica Finkle, Meta’s director of data governance and pubic policy, indicated that in the long run, age verification of Instagram users would require industry-wide effort and cooperation, especially since many young people lack government issue identification, per the WSJ.

She stated, “In the absence of industry standards or regulation on how to effectively verify age online, we’ve invested in a combination of technologies that are more equitable, provide more options to verify age, and that protect the privacy of people using our technologies.”

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