Instagram is making a move to address a longstanding concern of parents and lawmakers: verifying the age of its users, particularly children.
Yet the new tools fall short of carding everyone on Instagram. They will be used only when users already registered as 17 or under attempt to say they are adults.
Meta Platforms Inc. said Thursday that if users of its photo-centric social network try to edit their dates of birth so that they are deemed to be over 18, it will now require additional verification.
Instagram is testing three options: requiring users to upload IDs; ask adult Instagram friends to vouch for their ages; or submit videos of their faces that will be analyzed to estimate age.
Instagram is adding these extra steps as part of its efforts to ensure an “age-appropriate” experience for minors.
While children under 13 are prohibited by the network’s terms of service, those who say they are ages 13 to 17 can use it with some limitations.
Yet Instagram doesn’t verify the age a user declares when creating an account, and Instagram said these new tools won’t change that.
“We continue to think that collecting a date of birth and age is the appropriate experience for people in signing up for Instagram,” said Erica Finkle, Meta’s director of data governance and public policy.
She said by verifying information when people change their registered age, the service can ensure those already using it are being served the correct experience.
Instagram is testing the tools in the U.S. before deciding whether to roll them out more broadly.
Instagram’s new age-verification system coincides with increased attention on how to protect children and teens on social media.
Research from Meta that was published by The Wall Street Journal showed that for almost a third of teenage girls who struggle with their body image, Instagram made it worse.
Along with introducing its first parental-supervision tools following the Journal’s Facebook Files investigation, Meta also indefinitely halted efforts to build a version of Instagram for children under age 13.
The age-verification problem
For teen users, Instagram offers parental controls, automatically makes the account private and filters out contact from adults they don’t follow.
Those protections go away when the user’s registered age is 18.
Since 2019, Instagram has prompted new users to disclose their age, and in 2021, made it a requirement for everyone signing up for an account.
But it is an honor system, and one that isn’t always followed.
According to a 2021 survey of more than 3,000 high-school students across the country conducted by the Social Institute,
an organization that works to help students develop healthy relationships with social media, 47% said they created social-media accounts before age 13.
Age-verification systems have to balance a user’s privacy and data security with collecting enough information to determine their age,
said Stephen Balkam, chief executive of the Family Online Safety Institute, a nonprofit that seeks to make the internet safer for children and families.
In Thursday’s blog post, Ms. Finkle said that, in the long run, verifying the age of users requires an industrywide effort in which people’s ages could be confirmed on their devices or app-store accounts.
Instagram’s new verification options
For now, under Instagram’s test system, Meta is gathering new information that goes to its servers. The company will store IDs offered as proof of age for 30 days before deleting them.
For the video “selfie” age-verification option, Instagram will send files to the London-based digital-identity company Yoti.
That file will be used to estimate a user’s age, then deleted immediately, said Julie Dawson, Yoti’s chief policy and regulatory officer, who added that it won’t be used to train Yoti’s algorithm.
Yoti developed its age-verification technology by linking anonymous faces with their corresponding month and year of birth.
The algorithm works across different genders and skin tones, the company says, and it can’t recognize the specific identity of users.
One way to verify age without sharing extra data is for teens to have three adult followers, whom they also follow, vouch for their ages.
Instagram will offer a choice of six people who meet the criteria, Ms. Finkle said. Those selected can’t have a new account or be vouching for others at the same time.