This week, the UK’s data regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office, will get new powers to fine tech companies billions if they are found to misuse children’s information to target them with inappropriate material and adverts

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Instagram’s plans to ask users to verify their ages "won’t make a blind bit of difference", a former Government adviser has warned.

John Carr OBE said underage children would still be able to lie to get onto the social network, which has a minimum age of 13.

His comments come as Instagram announced it will start asking users to share their date of birth, and eventually block those to ignore the request.

Instagram only started to ask for new users’ dates of birth in 2019, previously asking only if they are 13, meaning it doesn’t know the age of many of its users.

However, there are no further checks to ensure users are giving their correct age.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Mr Carr, a child online safety expert who sat on the Government’s UK Council for Child Internet Safety panel, said: “Many social media have been doing that [asking for users’ date of birth] for years and it hasn’t made a blind bit of difference, because kids are smart and can lie.

No more volunteerism 

“Calling on big companies to do the right thing voluntarily – it’s a nice thing to say but it isn’t going to work. The days of volunteerism are over, it hasn’t worked. We need clear rules that apply to everyone.”

Tech giants are facing mounting pressure to prevent underage children getting onto their networks.

This week, the UK’s data regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office, will get new powers to fine tech companies billions if they are found to misuse children’s information to target them with inappropriate material and adverts.

Plans for robust checks

Meanwhile, the Government has asked the UK’s Children’s Commissioner for England, Rachel de Souza to draw up plans for robust online age checks, potentially using bio-metrics and passports.

In its announcement, Instagram said it understood some children may lie about their age and that it is using artificial intelligence systems to identify underage users.

A spokesman: “We recognize some people may give us the wrong birthday, and we’re developing new systems to address this.”

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Random age requests

Instagram said users would start seeing notifications asking for their date of birth appearing at random or prompted if they try to look at content with sensitivity filters placed over them.

Users will be able to dismiss the first few notifications but eventually have to share their date of birth “to continue using Instagram”.

Instagram’s decision to ask all users for their birthday comes as it has introduced a number of measures aimed at protecting young teenagers and children.

Among the new measures are the decision to make children’s accounts private by default and preventing "suspicious" accounts that contact high numbers of underage teenagers from being able to search for more such accounts.

NSPCC questions Instagram

The NSPCC also called on Instagram to explain how unverified age checks would keep children safe.

Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy, NSPCC, said: “This announcement has clearly come in response to the Children’s Code coming into force this week. This shows that regulation works because it is having an obvious impact on Facebook’s design choices.

“Our data shows that Instagram is consistently the most common platform used by abusers to groom children, so it is positive that it is bringing about these changes, but it hasn’t provided any substantive information that explains how they will work and be effective."

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