Instagram has announced a new process which will require users to enter their date of birth when signing up for a new account on the platform.
As explained by Instagram
Up till now, Instagram has had no such checks in place, which has lead to many people under the age of 13 signing up to the app. TechCrunch wrote about this issue recently, and called on Instagram to implement at least some form of checking. And while implementing a basic requirement like this on sign-up won't eliminate the problem, it will add another measure for enforcement, which could act as a bigger barrier for underage users in the app.
Instagram says that, while all users will need to enter their birth date, the information will not be visible to other users. Instagram will also enable those who've connected their Facebook account to have their date of birth info exported from there.
"If you’ve connected your Facebook account to your Instagram account, we will add the date of birth that’s on your Facebook profile. This is not public information and only you will be able to see it when viewing your own account information on Instagram. Editing your date of birth on Facebook will also change it on Instagram. If you don’t have a Facebook account or if you have not connected your accounts, you can add or edit your birthday directly on Instagram."
Again, adding additional measures to protect younger users is an important step, even in basic form like this. Facebook has had the same for years, and TikTok also has age checks in place. And while younger users can still side-step such requirements, it adds another detection and enforcement tool, expanding Instagram's options in this respect.
Interestingly, Instagram is also looking to age-gate business accounts.
Earlier this year, a research report suggested that a growing number of young users had started converting their personal Insta profiles into business accounts in order to access more in-depth audience data on post-performance, in response to Instagram hiding total like counts.
In October, reverse engineering expert Jane Manchun Wong identified a new test in the back-end of the app which includes a 'Minimum age' qualifier on business accounts.
Instagram is testing age restriction for business accounts pic.twitter.com/Xrlc3gAPyH— Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) October 17, 2019
This is another key element for Instagram to focus on, because whenever users sign up for a business account, they may also end up exposing their contact info - like their email address and/or phone number. According to researcher David Stier, around two million 12-15 year-old Instagram users currently have their phone and/or email information publicly listed on the platform, a significant privacy issue.
It seems likely that this will be the next step on this front for the app.
In addition to the new age requirements, Instagram is also implementing new controls for messaging, which will enable users to choose who is able to message them.
As per Instagram, the new messaging controls:
"...give you the ability to allow only people you follow to message and add you to group threads. People who enable this setting will no longer receive messages, group message requests or story replies from anyone they have not chosen to follow."
It's another simple step to provide more protection for younger users in particular, though the potential benefits of these controls can be more widely applied to a range of cases.
Instagram has made wellbeing and safety a key focus in 2019, as the app has continued to grow and expand into the huge platform it is today. These may not be flashy new upgrades or tools, but such changes are crucial, and while it has taken Instagram some time to implement a level of age control, the importance, and benefits, of such steps should not be overlooked.