Instagram announced on December 4 that the social-media site will be adding age-verification checks to keep children younger than 13 away from its platform. This will be done by asking users to enter their date of birth when registering for a new account. According to the announcement by Instagram, this age-verification check is introduced in order to provide a safer online community to the minors.
Most social-media platforms require users to be at least 13 years old in order to use their platform. But there is no possible way to verify this. TikTok has another interesting provision where children under the age of 13 are allowed to use that social-media platform only if they have their parental consent. But without authentic data and a system of authentication, anyone can lie to register on a social-media platform.
A number of studies have shown that children are more vulnerable to online predators than adults. An Ofcom annual survey showed that 18% of children under the age of 11 are registered on numerous social-media sites even when these sites have minimum age-limit requirements. This clearly shows that it's remarkably easy for children to use these social-media sites.
Although Instagram's age-verification method shows that the social-media platform wants to do right by the children and their heart is in the right place, it is imperative to note that asking for date of birth only is not a proper form of age verification. Most social platforms do not employ a secondary mechanism in place to verify the validity of the submitted information by the user.
The former head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), former eSafety Commissioner and now chief strategy officer at CyverCX, Alastair MacGibbon, has told the House of Representatives that online age verification would definitely require a biometric element.
"I think biometrics with all of the problems associated with biometrics, and they are not a silver bullet, is the only way you could really have an online system," MacGibbon said.
Parents are increasingly concerned about the online activities of their children and are constantly looking for ways to prevent them from accessing age-exclusive services and products. As mentioned earlier, it is remarkably easy for children to access social-media sites and age-restricted content. According to research, children from the age of three have started to access the internet with over a quarter (28%) of children using social media before they are of school age. 59% of children have used social media by the age of 10 even when the minimum age requirement is older than 13.
Currently, it is too easy for someone to create a fake profile or pretend to impersonate someone online. This is extremely common on dating sites as well. According to recent data, children as young as 12 are on dating sites as well. With a single verified digital identity, it becomes incredibly easy to quash the misuse of online platforms. Through digital age verification, individuals can quickly, simple and securely prove their age and identity online. This measure protects children and underage teens from creating false accounts or being targeted by adults with malicious intent.
Digital Identity can play a very crucial role in curbing online trolling and propaganda by bots. Through the use of some sort of physical form of verification such as school ID or government-issued ID, a more robust age verification can be contributed. The presence of under-age kids on social media is already worrying as these platforms don't classify content on the basis of what is appropriate for the age. Social-media platforms need to do more when it comes to age verification.
Of course, parents have a greater responsibility to safeguard and protect their children but it becomes almost impossible for parents to monitor their kids' activities 24/7. The duty to protect children from content that is not meant for them also lies with the site owners. This is why it becomes highly imperative for social-media platforms to protect underage kids from harmful content. Although Instagram's age-verification check is encouraging, it should also be noted that asking for the date of birth only isn't going to do a good job of verifying the ages.