The Facebook-owned Instagram is currently under investigation by the EU for potentially violating data privacy laws. This comes after a data scientist claimed that the platform exposed the personal information of millions of underage users.
The EU Leads Instagram Probe
The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC), the EU’s data regulator for Facebook, is launching an investigation into Instagram’s handling of kids’ information.
The investigation was prompted by a 2019 study by data analyst, David Stier, who uncovered startling information about Instagram’s exposure of young users’ personal data. Stier found that over 60 million Instagram users under the age of 18 were given the chance to change their personal accounts into business accounts.
Business accounts on Instagram publicly display the user’s phone number and email address. This means that any underage user who converted their profile into a business account exposed their email address and phone number.
To make matters worse, the same emails and phone numbers were also embedded in the HTML source code of webpages accessed by those Instagram users on a computer. This allowed hackers to data harvest the personal information of young users.
A Facebook spokesperson responded to Stier’s findings in a statement to BBC, saying:
We’ve always been clear that when people choose to set up a business account on Instagram, the contact information they shared would be publicly displayed. That’s very different to exposing people’s information. We’ve also made several updates to business accounts since the time of Mr Stier’s mischaracterisation in 2019, and people can now opt out of including their contact information entirely.
Despite the fact that Facebook denies Stier’s claims, and now lets users with business accounts opt-out of displaying personal information, the DPC is still going forward with the investigation.
The DPC is probing the social media giant on two matters. The first pertains to Facebook’s legal right to process kids’ data, while the other investigation deals with whether Instagram’s profile settings can properly accommodate children.
The DPC Deputy Commissioner, Graham Doyle, also spoke to BBC about potential child endangerment on Instagram, stating:
Instagram is a social media platform which is used widely by children in Ireland and across Europe. The DPC has been actively monitoring complaints received from individuals in this area and has identified potential concerns in relation to the processing of children’s personal data on Instagram which require further examination.
If the DPC finds any violation during its probe, Facebook will incur a hefty fine.
Making Instagram Safe for Kids
Making Instagram safe for underage users might seem like an insurmountable task. After all, Instagram still has yet to implement solid parental controls. This will likely force parents to monitor their child’s activity on their smartphone and computer.