Experts slam Instagram’s new age verification trial

Experts slam Instagram’s new age verification trial

Legal and privacy experts in India have criticized Instagram’s new feature that asks users for age-verification documents. On Thursday, Meta expanded the trial phase for age-verification for Instagram users to India and Brazil. The feature was so far available only in the US.

Instagram now gives users three options to verify their age — uploading ID, recording a video selfie, or asking a friend to verify. The feature applies to users under 18 when they update their date of birth on the platform. “Verified accounts may be a safety net but to require social media users to submit identity cards which contain not just personal but sensitive personal information is certainly not a welcome move. More so when there are clear lacunae in law with respect to the security of such data,” said N.S. Nappinai, Supreme Court lawyer and founder of Cyber Saathi.

ALSO READ: Instagram brings users’ age verification trial to India

According to Meta, the company is testing these verification methods to ensure that teens and adults have the right experience for their age group. The social media company said that it has partnered with Yoti, a company that specializes in online age verification, to ensure user privacy. Most social media platforms, including Instagram, require users to be at least 13 years old to create an account. However, in some countries, the minimum age is higher by law, in which case, users aged 13-17 are provided with age-appropriate experiences, which include preventing unwanted contacts by adults and limiting the reach of advertisers.“Meta is committed to deleting the age verification measures after 30 days; it is not certain that other platforms will incorporate similar practices given that they would be interested in keeping records to allow for continued verification in case of an investigation against them to allay their own liability,” warned Trishee Goyal, research fellow at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.

According to Rule 4(7) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021, significant social media intermediaries are required to enable users who register for their services from India to voluntarily verify their accounts using an appropriate mechanism, which can be an active Indian mobile number.

Rishi Anand, partner at law at DSK Legal, said India does not have any law that mandates the use of government identification for verification to use a social media platform. “What Meta is doing with Instagram is likely in line with the company looking at taking a future-first view at how social media regulations may evolve. But, it is too early to say this is happening,” said Anand. Goyal said the manner in which age verification is carried out can itself be riddled with problems. One of the main concerns, she said, is to find a “balance between reliably verifying the age and avoiding a data maximization approach.”

“Use of official IDs for verification can cause children who want to access social media support communities anonymously, such as sexual minorities or those suffering from domestic violence or sexual assault, to withdraw from these support communities fearing a compromise on their anonymity,” she said.

Privacy experts also said asking users to upload a selfie video is a violation of privacy. “Users share their photos or videos on social media because they want to, not because they are forced to,” said Nappinai, warning that verifying through a mutual friend, too, will help platforms link and trace users.

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Author: Shirley