Facebook on Tuesday announced changes to Instagram’s advertising and privacy policies that would supposedly protect teenagers after years of criticism for failing to do enough to protect underage users from sexual predators and bullying .
The social network, which owns Instagram, announced it was changing its advertising policies to reduce hyper-targeted ads to teens. Advertisers on both Instagram and Facebook who previously used the interests and activities of people on other websites to target their ads can now only use age, gender, and location to serve ads to users under the age of 18.
New Instagram accounts created by anyone under 16 will also be private by default, which means that the account’s posts can only be viewed by approved followers, the company said. Facebook said its research found that 80 percent of young users would stay on the default private setting.
Facebook also said it is also developing technology to prevent accounts with “potentially suspicious behavior” from seeing or interacting with anyone under the age of 18 on Instagram.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle are calling for more online protection for children. A bipartisan bill, the Children and Youth Online Privacy Protection Act, would prohibit targeted advertising to children and would require user consent to collect information from users under the age of 15.
Even so, Facebook is pushing ahead with its plans to create an Instagram for children under the age of 13, an extension that has been rejected by attorneys general from 44 states and jurisdictions and an international coalition of 35 children’s and consumer groups. Facebook critics cited research showing that social media use has led to increases in psychological distress, body image concerns, and suicidal thoughts.
In a blog post Tuesday, Pavni Diwanji, Facebook’s vice president of youth products, said the company was using artificial intelligence to try to verify users’ ages. Birthday messages addressed to a user, for example, can be used to identify their age, in addition to the age someone entered on Instagram and other Facebook apps.
“This technology is not perfect and we are constantly working to improve it, but that is why it is important that we use it, along with many other signals, to understand the age of people,” wrote Ms. Diwanji.