Kyle is among the underage users flocking to Instagram, a trend that is creating a new social problem for Facebook.
The photo-sharing service is experiencing tremendous growth, doubling in size to 100 million users in about a year. But child advocates and some parents say that too much of its rise has been driven by preteens or even younger children.
These advocates say they worry about whether Instagram is collecting the personal information of young children and whether the company is doing enough to make sure kids are safe from adult strangers.
Over the past two weeks, more than 4,500 people have signed a petition on Change.org that calls for Facebook to automatically set the accounts of most teens to private. It also asks the company to disable GPS technology that can pinpoint where children take photos.
“Facebook is not doing enough to ensure children under 13 don’t have access to the site,” said Joy Spencer, a director of child safety for the Center for Digital Democracy, a public interest group. “That raises a number of concerns about safety and because Instagram then is able to collect personally identifiable information on children, which can be used to target ads toward them in the future.”
Facebook’s main site, which has about 1 billion users, tries to discourage minors from joining. It requires a real name, an age and a few other bits of information when a person signs up. The gateway is hardly foolproof, because it relies on voluntary answers. Still, people who volunteer that they are younger than 13 are automatically barred from the site.
New research shows that Instagram has become particularly popular among youths. But the service does not make even a nominal effort to keep young children from signing up, privacy advocates said. Anyone can register with a fake name. The app does not ask for any personal information.
If Instagram were to ask the age of its users, it would have to take on more legal obligations, privacy analysts say.
Under a revision of the federal government’s child privacy law, set to take effect July 1, social networks and other Web sites must get a parent’s consent if they collect personal information such as photos, e-mail addresses or videos from users younger than 13.
Instagram said it does not track how many underage users are on its service, which primarily serves mobile-phone and tablet owners. When asked why, spokeswoman Nicky Jackson Colaco said, “Like many other platforms, Instagram only asks for data that is essential to operate our service.”