Instagram is testing an AI face-scanning tool that can verify your age

It's also trying out a technique called social vouching.

Thomas White / Reuters

Instagram is testing new age verification methods including asking followers to vouch for your age and even using AI that can estimate your age via a video selfie. It's part of a push to ensure users are at least the minimum 13 years old and "to make sure that teens and adults are in the right experience for their age group," it announced.

For the "social vouching" system, Instagram asks three mutual followers of the user to confirm their age. Those followers must be at least 18 and have three days to respond to the request. Users can still verify their age with pictures of ID cards as well.

The AI part requires you to take a video selfie, which Meta-owned Instagram then shares with a company called Yoti (it doesn't provide any other information to Yoti, only the image, it says). "Yoti's technology estimates your age based on your facial features and shares that estimate with us. Meta and Yoti then delete the image. The technology cannot recognize your identity — only your age," Instagram says in the blog post.

Despite those reassurances, the system is bound to be controversial. Users widely distrust both Facebook and Instagram with their data, to start with. On top of that, Yoti's age recognition AI has higher errors depending on your gender, age range and skin tone.

Yoti's system is already used by the UK and German governments to detect age using deep learning after being trained on "hundreds of thousands" of pictures, Yoti cofounder Robin Tombs told Wired last year. Much like other neural networks, though, how it works is a bit of a black box, so even the company doesn't know exactly which facial characteristics it uses. Yoti has a YouTube demo (above) where it applies makeup to young users to see if the system can still correctly guess their ages (it can).

You can try Yoti's age estimation yourself — I found that it made me considerably younger (four years) when I took off my glasses, so your own mileage may vary. In general, it's the least accurate (plus or minus 3.97 years) when used on female faces with dark skin and the most accurate (2.38 years) with light-skinned male faces.

Instagram says it aims to use AI to understand people's ages to "prevent teens from accessing Facebook Dating, adults from messaging teens and helps teens from receiving restricted ad content, for example." It looks like this is just the start, as well, as the company said it plans to expand the use of it "widely across our technologies."

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