Instagram to let Indian parents control kids’ usage

Instagram on Thursday introduced controls for parents of underage users of its social media platform in India.

Called Parental Supervision, the new suite of settings will let parents tweak the internet experiences for their kids on the platform. The features were announced globally in December last year, and rolled out to users in the US in March.

This comes just over a year after Instagram began restricting the amount of data that advertisers can collect and use to serve targeted content to users under 16 years.

The platform’s move also comes at a time when legislators worldwide, including in India, have been flagging issues of underage usage of social media platforms, and how children’s data could be misused for targeted advertising and other purposes. India’s draft Personal Data Protection bill, which has now been withdrawn, also required social media firms to seek parental approval before allowing children under 18 years to use the platforms. This was contested by the platforms, who felt that the step was too strict and would lead to more data collections.

Currently, any regulation to stop underage use of social media remains scarce in India, said Pawan Duggal, cyber security expert and a Supreme Court lawyer.

“We have the Section 67B of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which deals with strictures on child pornography. There is also Section 6 of the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules, 2011, which covers any sharing of sensitive personal data by corporate bodies, with third parties. None, however, strictly cover the impact of data sharing and internet services on children,” Duggal said.

In July last year, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, a statutory body under the ministry of women and child development, said in a survey that despite mandating users to be at least 13 years of age, Meta’s social platforms—Facebook and Instagram—had a significant number of users aged around 10.

The report showed that nearly one in every four 10-year-old internet users in the country had an Instagram account, and called for moves to regulate access to social media services for such underage users.

India’s upcoming Digital India Act, which is in the works, is expected to introduce regulations in this regard. On 5 September, IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said the Act would make the “online world more accountable for what is published there”.

To be sure, the Parental Controls feature does not exactly seek approval from parents either. It only allows parents to control how much time their kids can spend on Instagram every day, and also mandate break periods between each day and week. Parents will also be able to see whom their kids follow, and who follow them back. Further, they will be notified when their kids report an account.

Avinash Chandra, a public policy expert and former senior fellow at policy think-tank, Centre for Civil Society, said that one of the biggest issues that underage users face is linked to body image, which in turn causes numerous mental health troubles early on. “While the new parental controls can help address this to an extent, it is also important to note that many underage users have multiple accounts, and instances of cyber-bullying may be tricky to handle for platforms even with such controls,” he said.

Instagram isn’t the only platform to make such changes. In February last year, Google-owned YouTube announced a ‘Supervised Mode’ — which allowed parents to give underage users access to the video streaming service through their own Google account. Snapchat, too, introduced last month ‘Family Center’, which gave parents the ability to see which accounts their children follow, and report any that they find objectionable.

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