Instagram age verification – or rather, lack of same – has been a hot-button issue for some time with both parents and lawmakers. App owner Meta has so far made no effort to ensure that claimed user ages are correct but says that it is now testing three verification options.
However, even if one or more of these are implemented, it still won’t prove much of a barrier to underage kids who claim to be older …
Instagram claims that usage is limited to teenagers and adults. The youngest age at which you can open an account is set to 13.
However, Instagram currently carries out no verification of claimed ages. All someone has to do to open an account is give a date of birth, with no attempt by Meta to check this. Indeed, some long-time Instagram users didn’t even need to provide a birthdate until the company belatedly added in this requirement.
A study carried out last year found that upwards of 40% of children under 13 were using Instagram and other social media networks that claim to exclude them. Both parents and lawmakers have been calling on the company to address this.
The matter was given greater urgency when research among 2,000 US children using Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and Snapchat revealed that a full third of minors had experienced an “online sexual interaction,” which included being asked for, or receiving, nude photos. The worst platforms for sexually abusive messages were Instagram and Snapchat, with 16% of minors on both platforms reporting sexual interactions.
Instagram age verification tests
Instagram said today that it is now testing three age verification options.
[There are] three options: upload their ID, record a video selfie, or ask mutual friends to verify their age. We’re testing this so we can make sure teens and adults are in the right experience for their age group. We are also partnering with Yoti, a company that specializes in online age verification, to help ensure people’s privacy.
The company explained how the latter options work.
Video Selfie: You can choose to upload a video selfie to verify your age. If you choose this option, you’ll see instructions on your screen to guide you. After you take a video selfie, we share the image with Yoti, and nothing else. Yoti’s technology estimates your age based on your facial features and shares that estimate with us. Meta and Yoti then delete the image. The technology cannot recognize your identity – just your age.
Social Vouching: This option allows you to ask mutual followers to confirm how old you are. The person vouching must be at least 18 years old, must not be vouching for anyone else at that time and will need to meet other safeguards we have in place. The three people you select to vouch for you will receive a request to confirm your age and will need to respond within three days.
As was famously said in the sitcom Yes Minister, the headline giveth, and the small-print taketh away.
First, the checks will only be carried out when a user attempts to change their date of birth from one which is under 18 to over 18 (which removes some restrictions which apply to teen accounts).
Starting today, we’re testing new options for people on Instagram to verify their age, starting with people based in the US. If someone attempts to edit their date of birth on Instagram from under the age of 18 to 18 or over, we’ll require them to verify their age.
There will be no attempt to verify existing app users, nor those opening an account. This is the very definition of doing the absolute least possible in an attempt to appear responsible.
Second, while Yoti claims 98.91% accuracy at identifying 6- to 11-year-olds as under 13, it’s notable that no data is provided for 12-year-olds. Additionally, for 13- to 17-year-olds, the only data cited is for correctly identifying them as under 23, which is a completely irrelevant ability in this context.
This is Meta pretending to care, while not doing anything which would reduce its user numbers.
Image: N. Hanacek/NIST
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