Instagram now requires all people signing up for a new account to provide their birthdate, and anyone under 13 will be prohibited from starting an account.
Instagram users under 18 in the European Union have had to submit their birthdays for the past 18 months in order to comply with that region’s General Data Protection Regulation. And when people merge their Instagram profiles with their Facebook accounts, Instagram gains access to the birthdates they provided when they joined Facebook.
People with accounts on both platforms who edit their birthdays on Facebook will have those changes carried over to Instagram, and people who are only on Instagram and not Facebook can enter their birthdays on Instagram.
Facebook and younger-skewing social platforms Snapchat and TikTok require people to enter an age during the sign-up process, but Instagram had not in most cases until now.
“Asking users to provide an unverifiable date of birth will do nothing in practice to protect children from harmful or age-inappropriate content,” warned the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a U.K. nonprofit, in a statement.
An Instagram spokesperson said the platform had not asked people for their ages in the past “because we wanted Instagram to be a place where everyone can express themselves fully, irrespective of their identity,” adding that users’ birthday information will not be displayed publicly.
Instagram said in a blog post detailing the policy change, “In the coming months, we will use the birthday information you share with us to create more tailored experiences, such as education around account controls and recommended privacy settings for young people.”
The spokesperson denied that advertising was behind the change, pointing out that promotion of products such as alcohol, gambling and birth control is already restricted to older users by existing policies.
Complying with various child safety and data privacy regulations may have spurred the move. For example, under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act in the U.S., online services that collect personally identifiable information about children under 13 without the consent of their parents are subject to civil penalties of up to $42,530 per violation.
The NSPCC said in a statement, “Forthcoming regulation will force platforms to go further and will require them to take steps to proactively apply additional protections to children’s accounts by default. But first and foremost, the emphasis has to be on ensuring that platforms are safe in the first place for children to use.”
Instagram also revealed Wednesday that it will add a setting in the coming weeks enabling people to no longer receive Instagram Direct messages from or be added to chat groups by people they aren’t following.
The company said in its blog post, “The safety of young people has always been central to our decision-making, but we are increasingly doing more. Over the coming months, we’ll be exploring additional changes using birthday information—for example, by recommending young people enable more private settings.”
Instagram concluded, “Understanding how old people are on Instagram is a central part of the work we’re doing to keep young people safe. It will allow us to create age-appropriate experiences for our youngest community members, while living up to our longstanding rule to ensure that people who are underage do not have access to Instagram.”