Findings concluded that:
- 20m minors used Facebook within year prior to the Consumer Reports study
- 7.5m minors were under 13
- 5.0m minors were 10 years or younger
- 1.0m children were harassed, threatened or subjected to other cyberbullying the year prior to the study
A June 2012 Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article also confirmed that Facebook was exploring options to provide access for kids with specific control mechanisms in place so that parents could manage their access.
I can see a million reasons why this may present many problems for Facebook and parents. In today’s world, parents must be extra vigilant and pro-active with their children. Technology has brought great opportunity to learn and communicate but has also brought the darker aspects of society within reach of a minor. As such, parental responsibility, I feel, is far more complex in today’s world than the one I grew up in.
Recently, I noticed a strange rise in #spam follower accounts within Instagram. Some of the profile accounts were tied to specific apps, developers and even porn properties. In all instances, the photos and hashtags used had no direct relation to whatever snapshot I had posted. Even worse, some of the profile accounts started to “follow me” in typical twitter-verse ideology that theorizes that if I follow a social media account, others will “discover” me under this account and by some twisted rule, inspire me to follow this spammy profile account. Duh. Only works with legitimate social accounts that actually “create value” in sharing and engagement. It’s not one-way.
Recently, Instagram’s experience has been coughing up “younger users” who either like a photo or follow. In my opinion, some of these recent “followers” were too young to be on the service — while their photos were “safe”, I took the liberty to block and flag the profile account for either potential abuse of terms of service (age?) or operating a spam account.
I don’t actually recall if Instagram ever asked for my age when I signed up with the iOS app but the recent follows raised some interesting issues. Facebook, it would seem, may have another problem on its hands with Instagram. Without any mechanisms in place to control usage (preventing minors in accessing the service), Facebook potentially faces the same challenges with Instagram after acquisition as it has already experienced with its broader platform. There is no doubt there are minors on the service as the other study has already discovered with Facebook.
But if we went deeper into the rabbit hole, Instagram may be even more challenging given its rapid distributive effects and the fact that photos can be distributed in real-time and more quickly. Instagram is popular because of photos that are extremely viral. Let’s assume most profile accounts are legitimate (it is apparent that some are spammy or grey hat accounts designed to raise awareness for a product or service).
What happens in the Instagram ecosystem if minors start to post photos of a questionable nature OR others start to distribute questionable photos? There is certainly a risk that stalkers could target these profile accounts or even engage minors who are using the service. Big problem. When you add in another layer called “spammer account”, you see that there is a darker side of risk here.
After some peripheral searches through Google, I didn’t find much on the subject of minors and Instagram beyond one, good article. Written by “Your Sphere: For Parents”, it tackles the topic about Instagram and Kids Safety (Click for Article) and outlines several precautionary steps that parents should take and be aware of when it comes to their children.
One thing most people still don’t know is that smartphone devices today enable GPS geo-location data tagging in photos, thereby allowing you to determine where the photo was taken on a map. Apple’s iPhoto, for example, imports photos from your iPhone and places them on a map to show where they were taken. A great many people don’t know about this.
To unsuspecting users, with geotagging on, all photos collect location data by way of EXIF data. (Click for Article). For parents, this should be a concern if they’ve purchased iOS or Android smartphones for their children because they could be taking photos and sharing them online with this data easily available.
Exact Steps to Turn Off Geotagging for iPhone’s Camera App?
Even though there are mechanisms in place within the Instagram app to report violations or concerns in a crowd-sourced fashion, I think it is going to be very important for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and many others to take a more aggressive stance on privacy and the protection of minors in the large-scale, highly-engaged ecosystems that they’ve helped create.
Only time will tell how all of this will unfold.
Parents! Please MAKE time to talk to your children and be extra vigilant about their activities on the web and through smartphone devices.