Users of Instagram in the UK or EU will from now on see new age verification tools on the platform as part of a major safety update to protect minors.
From today, anyone who tries to edit their date of birth by changing it from under the age of 18 to over 18 will have to verify their age through ID or a video selfie, which will be examined by independent age estimation technology.
Instagram said the new update would help ensure an age-appropriate experience for its users.
Cyber safety campaigners have long been advocating for greater child protection, particularly following the Molly Russell inquest, which concluded last month that the 14-year-old girl died from an act of self harm after being exposed to the “negative effects of online content“.
Instagram will be partnering with the UK technology firm Yoti to develop their age estimation system.
After a user records their selfie, it is shared with Yoti to analyse their facial features and then an estimate of the user’s age will be sent to Instagram, the two companies explained.
Crucially the companies have emphasised that Yoti’s technology is not a facial recognition service and therefore it cannot identify the user, only estimate the age of the face it is shown.
To uphold privacy regulations, the firms have ensured that no account details are shared with Yoti and the image is immediately deleted by both companies after an age has been estimated.
The social media platform began testing the system in a number of countries earlier this year.
Instagram’s public policy director, Tara Hopkins, said: “We want everyone to experience Instagram in a way that’s appropriate for their age, which means we need to know how old they are – and this is a challenge across our industry.
“That’s why today’s announcement is such an important step, and why we’re particularly excited to be working with Yoti, who are leading the way in building effective technology to verify age, while putting privacy first.”
Chief policy and regulatory officer at Yoti, Julie Dawson, said: “Proving age online is a complex, industry-wide challenge.”
“Our facial age estimation is a privacy-preserving solution. We built it to give everyone a secure way to prove their age without sharing their name or an ID document.
“The technology can allow minors to access content which is appropriate for their age, whilst protecting the privacy of users. Today’s announcement is another step in the right direction to create safer online environments.”
In response to the announcement, the NSPCC said it was pleased to see steps being taken, but the measures did not go far enough, and the tools should be applied to everyone on the site.
NSPCC policy and regulatory manager Richard Collard said: “With Ofcom research showing that a third of under-18s on social media admitted setting up adult accounts, it is crucial that Instagram takes the necessary steps to ensure that these children are not being exposed to risk or harm.
“But these measures will seemingly do little to stop new young users creating adult accounts on Instagram or protect children who are already using them.
“This halfway house is exactly why the government needs to quickly deliver a robust Online Safety Bill which makes sure that every social media site has a legal obligation to protect children from harmful content on their platform.”