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New Delhi: Meta-owned Instagram has expanded the trial phase of age verification on its platform to India, after announcing the initiative on 23 June.

Meta said on Thursday that the test to verify user age on the platform is being expanded to India and Brazil, and would also be offered to users in United Kingdom and European Union before the end of 2022.

Meta will offer users three ways to verify their age. Those selected in the trial phase can upload a government approved identification document to verify the age. Alternatively, users can record a video selfie through the Instagram app, for which Meta will “use technology" to verify the same. Finally, Meta will also offer a way for a user’s mutual friends to ‘vouch’ for the former’s age.

At the moment, it remains unclear if the move will tie into the union government’s 2021 regulation that proposed ‘voluntary verification’ of user identities on ‘significant’ social media intermediaries in India, i.e. platforms with over 5 million registered (and not active) users.

The option is presently only for Instagram, and it isn’t clear yet if the same would be rolled out on Facebook and WhatsApp as well.

In February last year, the union government notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (or IT Rules, 2021). Under this law, Rule 4(7) stated that significant social media intermediaries in the country will enable users in the country “to voluntarily verify their accounts by using any appropriate mechanism, including the active Indian mobile number of such users."

The rule further added that in cases of voluntary verification, the platforms would be liable to offer a “demonstrable and visible mark of verification" to the users.

On 7 August, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, union minister of state for IT, reminded at the Parliament that all social media intermediaries are required to offer this feature to its users. Instagram’s move to enable this test comes approximately two months after Chandrasekhar’s response in the Parliament.

According to an estimate by market researcher Statista, as of January this year, Instagram and Facebook had roughly 230 million monthly active users, while WhatsApp had nearly 400 million.

For Instagram, India is reportedly its biggest market in terms of its geographical distribution of users.

The union government is looking to enable identity verification of users across a gamut of services, including the issuance of SIM cards. Last month, the Draft Telecom Bill proposed a penalty of 50,000 or one year of imprisonment for users who use fake identification documents for procuring a number.

Bringing over-the-top communication services such as WhatsApp under its ambit, the Bill further stated that the penalty would be applicable even on users who “misrepresent" their identities on these platforms.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shouvik Das

Shouvik Das is a science, space and technology reporter for Mint and TechCircle. In his previous stints, he worked at publications such as CNN-News18 and Outlook Business. He has also reported on consumer technology and the automobile sector.
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