Instagram Rolls Out Face Recognition for Teen Age Verification

Instagram Rolls Out Face Recognition for Teen Age Verification

A series of three app screens illustrating Instagram's new age verification methods are shown.

Want to stop being a teen? Instagram says “prove it.”
Image: Instagram

Instagram revealed Thursday it was testing two new age verification methods that aim to ensure adolescents experience an age appropriate version of the app.

The photo-sharing app announced that current teen users in the U.S. who want to edit their birth date to indicate that they’re over 18 years old on the app will have prove that this indeed the case. Besides providing Instagram with an ID, young people will have the novel option to upload a video selfie and have it vetted by an AI specialized in facial age estimation from Yoti, a UK-based global identity and biometric technology company. Instagram stressed that only an age is inferred with Yoti’s technology, not an identity.

“We’re testing this so we can make sure teens and adults are in the right experience for their age group,” Instagram said in a blog post. It continued: “When we know if someone is a teen (13-17), we provide them with age-appropriate experiences like defaulting them into private accounts, preventing unwanted contact from adults they don’t know and limiting the options advertisers have to reach them with ads.” Instagram says it bars anyone under 13 from signing up for Instagram, and it requires new users submit their age. If a user is between 13 and 17 years old, the app makes their account private by default and limiting the ways advertisers can target them. 

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Yoti reports that its AI correctly identifies 13- to 17-year-olds as being under 23 years old 99.65% of the time. Meanwhile, it says that it identifies 6- to 11-year-olds as being under 13 years old 98.91% of the time. The company maintains that its tool complies with the UK and European Union versions of the General Data Protection Regulation.

Another new method will allow teens to ask mutual followers who are over 18 to vouch for them to confirm their age. According to TechCrunch, Instagram will require three people to verify a user’s age. People who vouch for others will receive a number of options to verify the age bracket of the user in question, such as “under 13 years old,” “13-17 years old,” “18-20 years old,” or “21 years or older.” The three mutuals must all choose the same option in order for a teen user to be allowed to change their age.

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When Meta whistleblower Frances Haugen revealed troubling internal research about how Instagram negatively affects the mental health of teenage girls (an assertion the social media giant contends is inaccurate), the company rushed to contain the fallout. It’s still trying to prove to the world that its app isn’t harmful for teens. 

Obviously, handing a third-party company countless selfies of teens is concerning from a data privacy perspective, especially when it comes to data-hungry Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook. Instagram stated that both it and Yoti delete the video selfies once a user’s age is confirmed. If teens chose to verify their age via an ID, the social media app claims the information will be encrypted and stored securely.

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In its blog post, Instagram described understanding a user’s age as a “complex, industry-wide challenge” and stated that it wanted to work with governments and other industry players to set standards for age verification online.

“Many people, such as teens, don’t always have access to the forms of ID that make age verification clear and simple,” Instagram said. “As an industry, we have to explore novel ways to approach the dilemma of verifying someone’s age when they don’t have an ID.”

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