Nearly a decade after its launch, Instagram is finally taking the basic step of asking people signing up for the service to provide their age in an attempt to better protect younger users.
Starting Wednesday, the photo-sharing service will ask new users for their date of birth when an account is created. Previously, Instagram users were required to confirm they were ages 13 or older when signing up, but they didn’t have to provide an exact birthday.
Instagram has long valued anonymity, including not requiring people to use real names.
However, as with any other online service, it’s possible users can lie about their age in order to join.
“Asking for this information will help prevent underage people from joining Instagram, help us keep young people safer and enable more age-appropriate experiences overall,” Instagram wrote in a blog post.
Instagram said it would use age information to recommend younger people opt for more privacy settings, such as allowing new message requests only from people they follow.
The photo-sharing service had been criticized for not checking kids’ ages, which potentially runs the risk of exposing younger users to inappropriate content and also allows Instagram to collect data about kids under the age of 13.
The Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) limits how a company can collect data about anyone under 13. COPPA was passed in 1998, but was expanded in 2012 to apply to more types of companies and new technologies, such as mobile devices and targeted ads.
Instagram now expects ad targeting to become more accurate as a result of the change. This could be especially important for product categories limited to certain ages, such as alcohol and gambling.
Previously, Instagram said it targeted those types of ads to people when it was “confident” they were the appropriate age. The company figured out ages from Instagram accounts connected to Facebook, where birthdates are required.
The new requirement marks the latest way Instagram is becoming a little bit more like its parent company Facebook.
Birthdays have long been a fixture on Facebook. In recent years, the company has encouraged people to continue wishing each other a happy birthday on Facebook through birthday charity fundraisers and special “Birthday Stories” that disappear after 24 hours. However, Instagram said that it still wouldn’t make birthdays visible to other people on the platform.
While the new policy is focused on new users, there are other ways for Instagram to get birth dates from its existing audience. If users have already connected their Facebook profile with their Instagram account, the company will automatically add the date of birth that’s on their Facebook page. Current Instagram users can also add their birthday to their accounts.