Facebook on Tuesday unveiled changes to Instagram’s advertising and privacy policies that it said would protect teenagers, following years of criticism that the photo-sharing site has not done enough to prevent underage users from sexual predators and bullying.
The social network, which owns Instagram, said it would change its advertising policy to reduce hyper-targeted ads to teens. Advertisers on both Instagram and Facebook, which previously used people’s interests and activity across other websites to target their ads, will now only be able to use age, gender and location to show ads to users under 18.
New Instagram accounts created by those under 16 will also be private by default, meaning the account’s posts can only be viewed by approved followers, the company said. Facebook said its research indicated that 80 percent of young users would remain in the default private setting.
Facebook also said it was also developing technology to stop accounts with “potentially suspicious behavior” from seeing or interacting with people under 18 on Instagram.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have called for more online protections for children. A proposed bill with bipartisan support, the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act, would ban targeted advertising aimed at children and require user consent to collect information from users younger than 15.
Even so, Facebook continues to move ahead with plans to create an Instagram for children under the age of 13, an expansion that has been opposed by attorneys general for 44 states and jurisdictions as well as an international coalition of 35 children and consumers’ groups. Facebook’s critics cited research showing that social media use has led to an increase in mental distress, body image concerns and suicidal thoughts.
In a blog post on 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 directed at a user, for example, can be used to detect their age, in addition to the age someone entered in Instagram and across other Facebook apps.
“This technology isn’t perfect, and we’re always working to improve it, but that’s why it’s important we use it alongside many other signals to understand people’s ages,” Ms. Diwanji wrote.