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Here’s why Instagram suddenly wants to know your age

Here’s why Instagram suddenly wants to know your age
[Photo: Tim Gouw/Unsplash]

Facebook’s younger, cooler social network would like to know your date of birth, please.

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Starting today, you won’t be allowed to sign up for Instagram unless you share your age. The new rule is part of a handful of changes coming to Instagram “to build a safer experience for the youngest members of our community.” The change might also help Facebook squeeze more profits out of Instagram, but that’s just a convenient by-product, according to Facebook. “[This] isn’t why we’re making the changes,” a Facebook spokesperson told Fast Company.

If you already have an Instagram account, there’s a good chance Instagram already knows how old you are, because many people have linked their Instagram and Facebook accounts together. As “for the remaining users,” the Facebook spokesperson said (emphasis ours), “we are thinking through how best we capture their age without creating an intrusive experience.” The company declined to share more.

If advertising isn’t the point, then what is? Facebook says it has plans to use this birthdate info “to create more tailored experiences” that are “age-appropriate and safer,” but it’s not saying much else aside from these two examples: offering “education around account controls and recommended privacy settings for young people.”

Facebook apparently has more in the works. “[Using] age information in future product experiences is an active line of work for the company and we’ll be sharing more updates in time,” a Facebook spokesperson added.

Facebook claims that asking new users how old they are will also help it enforce its existing policy of keeping out users under the age of 13. Anyone can still lie about their age, and Facebook seems to expect that. (For example, it has a form for reporting active users suspected to be under 13.)

Facebook isn’t making changes to how it shares your age with others. The company promises it won’t start revealing ages on Instagram profiles, but its efforts to “capture” birthdates will probably help it capture more revenue. Facebook’s business model hinges on how well it knows its users, and a spokesperson told Fast Company that “we expect targeting to be more accurate following this update, which is helpful for advertisers and the community alike.”

The company has long argued that users prefer to see targeted ads, and it already enables advertisers to target children as young as 13 (with restrictions on certain categories, such as ads for “weapons accessories“). Facebook has also faced criticism for its efforts to gather more data on its younger users. Those efforts include a research program that paid teens $20 a month to hand over revealing information about what they do on their smartphones.

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