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Instagram criticized for its proliferation of underage users

by Fox Van Allen on May 17, 2013

If your family includes the average American teenager, then you’ve probably got your hands full keeping them safe on social media. Websites are required under federal law to prohibit children under 13 from using social networks like Facebook without parental permission. But according to a new Washington Post article on childrens’ privacy, social networking apps like Instagram drop the ball.

A recent update to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) extends the rule prohibiting those under 13 from using social networks like Instagram without parental consent effective this July. While preteens are technically prohibited from using Instagram in the app’s Terms of Service, at no point does it allow users to volunteer the fact that they're too young for the site.

“Like many other platforms, Instagram only asks for data that is essential to operate our service,” says Jackson Colaco, spokesperson for Instagram. She explains that the social network does have ever-expanding channels for reporting underaged users. “We will continue to invest heavily in tools and education that help people have a safe experience on our site.”

Because Instagram allows users to include geolocation data in their updates, it’s easy for a stranger to gain access to information about your children and family. Many younger students will even post class schedules and similar information, not only letting potential predators know where they were, but also giving them clues about where they’ll be.

One of the key takeways from the Washington Post article is that, no matter what federal law says about privacy, the job of keeping kids safe and secure online ultimately rests on your shoulders as a parent. If you are going to allow your children to use social networking, be sure you know what accounts they have and where, and who they share information with. Make it clear that they should reject friend requests from strangers and limit the amount of personal data they share online. And make an effort to teach your child good social networking ettiquitte so they know how to identify and avoid cyberbullying, report inappropriate behavior, and become a good digital citizen.

To learn more about keeping your kids safe on social media, check out Techlicious’s Parents’ Guide to Social Networking.



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