Instagram announces changes to bolster privacy and protection for younger users

  • 28/07/2021
"We don't want young people to deal with unwanted DMs or comments from strangers."
"We don't want young people to deal with unwanted DMs or comments from strangers." Photo credit: Instagram

Instagram has announced new features it's introducing hoping to give young people on the platform additional protections and a more private experience.

The Facebook-owned photo and video platform says from today all under 16-year-olds in New Zealand or anywhere in the world will default to having a private account. 

Additionally, anyone under 16 already on Instagram with a public account will be sent a notification highlighting the benefits of a private account and explaining how to change their settings.

Private accounts give creators more control over who can see or comment on their content, which is also hidden from Explore and hashtags functionality to ensure it can't be discovered.

"We want them to easily make new friends and keep up with their interests, but we don't want them to deal with unwanted DMs or comments from strangers," Instagram said.

Instagram's terms and conditions require everyone to be at least 13 years old to create an account. It's previously said it was working on artificial intelligence and machine learning to help identify younger people lying about their age to sign up.

The company has also developed new technology to find accounts that have shown "suspicious activity" and stop them from interacting with younger people's accounts. 

Suspicious behaviour might include being blocked or reported by a young person, the company said, which would mean the user then wouldn't be allowed to follow young people.

That feature launched in Australia, US, France, UK and Japan today, but will be coming to Aotearoa in the "near future", an Instagram spokesperson told Newshub.

"Using this technology, we won’t show young people's accounts in Explore, Reels or 'Accounts Suggested For You' to these adults," they said.

"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."

"We want young people to enjoy using Instagram while making sure we never compromise on their privacy and safety," Nick McDonnell, Head of Policy for Facebook New Zealand said. 

"That's why we're launching these new updates for our global community today, and delighted to support and sponsor Netsafety Week in New Zealand.

"Privacy is one of our top priorities, and we'll continue listening to young people, their parents, lawmakers and industry experts to build platforms and experiences that safeguard our entire community."

Facebook has been critical of the privacy updates added in Apple's iOS 14, which requires apps to ask for permission to track users for advertising purposes across apps and websites.

That included a notice on both the Facebook and Instagram apps that explained how information about users' activity on other apps and websites helped keep both free of charge.

And a study from cloud storage provider pCloud in March found Instagram and Facebook topped the list of most invasive apps, branding the former the "worst" when it comes to selling information.

"Instagram shares 79 percent of your data including browsing history and personal information with others online," it wrote at the time.

"In second place is Facebook, which gives 57 percent of your data away."

Another change coming in the next few weeks will be limits on how advertisers will be able to target ads to those under 18, Instagram said. Once the feature is live, advertisers will only be able to target people under 18 based on age, gender and location.

That means adverts based on interests or activity on other apps and websites will no longer be available. That change is global and will apply across Instagram, Facebook and Messenger.

Once a user turns 18, Instagram will notify them about the targeting options advertisers will now have and how they can control their ad experience.