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Instagram announces three new safety measures for young users, including limiting advertisers’ reach

While these steps by the social media platform could improve the safety of children online, some of the updates will only be rolled out in countries like the US, UK, and Australia for now. 

Instagram on Tuesday announced three changes it is making to improve the safety of young users on its platform:

  • Making accounts of users under the age of 16 private by default
  • Making it harder for suspicious accounts to find young users
  • Limiting advertisers’ ability to target young users

Both Facebook and Instagram allow users that are at least 13 years old to join their platforms. But Instagram is also reportedly developing a version of its app for children under the age of 13.

Why this matters? The safety of children on social media platforms has always been a priority but even more so now because the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed children into spending more time online, whether it be for education, recreation, or social media. The measures announced by Instagram have been long overdue, but are welcome nevertheless.

Making accounts of users under the age of 16 private by default

“Wherever we can, we want to stop young people from hearing from adults they don’t know, or that they don’t want to hear from. We believe private accounts are the best way to prevent this from happening. So starting this week, everyone who is under 16 years old (or under 18 in certain countries) will be defaulted into a private account when they join Instagram.” – Instagram

In addition to letting users control who sees or responds to their content, content posted by private accounts will not appear in the Explore tab or under hashtags.

For those under 16 who already have a public account, Instagram will show them a notification highlighting the benefits of a private account and explaining how to change their settings.

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This measure, however, does not prevent young users from choosing to have a public account if they wish to do so.

Making it harder for suspicious accounts to find young users

Instagram announced that it has developed new technology which allows it to find potentially suspicious accounts and stop these accounts from interacting with young users’ accounts. Suspicious accounts include accounts that may have recently been blocked or reported by a young person, the company stated as an example.

“Using this technology, now we won’t show young people’s accounts in Explore, Reels or ‘Accounts Suggested For You’ to these adults. If they find young people’s accounts by searching for their usernames, they won’t be able to follow them. They also won’t be able to see comments from young people on other people’s posts, nor will they be able to leave comments on young people’s posts.” – Instagram

These changes will first appear in the US, Australia, France, the UK, and Japan, and will expand to more countries later, the blog post stated. It is not certain what is holding the company back from rolling out these changes globally right away.

Limiting advertisers’ ability to target young users

Instagram will only allow advertisers to target ads to people under 18 based on their age, gender, and location, and not based on other parameters like interest or activity on other apps and websites.

Previously, advertisers could choose to show ads “to people with certain interests (like basketball) or based on information that they – or other partners – share with us about their activity on their website and apps,” the blog post noted. “That’s information like whether someone put a certain pair of shoes in their shopping cart or browsed for a new summer grill,” the post added.

These changes to ad targetting applies not only to Instagram but also Facebook and Messenger, the blog post noted.

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What does India’s data protection bill say about children’s safety online?

The draft Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill, 2019 has defined guardian data fiduciaries (GDF) as entities that

  1. Operate commercial websites or online services directed at children or
  2. Process large volumes of personal data of children.

What are the responsibilities of GDFs?

  • GDFs are prohibited from “profiling, tracking or behaviourally monitoring or targeted advertising direct at, children”. Essentially, they cannot process children’s data that can cause “significant harm” to the child.
  • GDFs are supposed to verify the age of their users, and obtain consent from their guardian or parents if the user is a “child” — anyone under 18.
  • Failure to adhere to the provisions can attract a fine of ₹15 crore, or 4% of the company’s global turnover.

In a MediaNama discussion on this topic, we discuss how these fiduciaries will comply with this complex mandate. In another discussion, we also discuss whether there should be a blanket age of consent for using online services.

Social media giants also committed to tackling abuse of women

Earlier this month, Facebook, Google, TikTok, and Twitter made commitments at the UN Generation Equality Forum in Paris to tackle online abuse of women on their platforms.

The commitments focused on two major themes:

  1. Curation: Focused on giving women more control and choice over what they see online, when they see it, and how they see it.
  2. Reporting: Focused on improving the processes through which women report abuse.

While many of the measures that platforms take on this front will also help younger users on these platforms, the measures announced by Instagram today are more proactive and direct in providing safety for children.

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