Meta has gotten clobbered over the impact Instagram has had on young people. Now, six months since the company paused plans to launch an Instagram app for teens, Meta is rolling out new parental controls it hopes will answer at least some of its critics' concerns.
The new controls will live in Instagram's so-called Family Center, where parents will be able to see how much time their kids are spending on the app, set time limits, get notified when their children report another account and get regular updates on who their kids are following and who's following them. Meta said it will also release parental controls for Quest headsets over the course of the next few months, including allowing parents to lock kids out of certain apps starting next month. And in May, the company will also begin automatically preventing kids 13 and up from accessing age-inappropriate apps.
Instagram head Adam Mosseri described the changes as "just one step on a longer path."
"Our vision for Family Center is to eventually allow parents and guardians to help their teens manage experiences across Meta technologies, all from one central place," Mosseri wrote in a blog post Wednesday.
Mosseri hinted that these changes were coming last December, shortly before testifying to Congress in the wake of whistleblower Frances Haugen's disclosures about Instagram's impact on teen girls. At the time, Mosseri said the company was working on new parental controls, as well as features that encourage teens to "take a break" from Instagram.
The changes Instagram is announcing now will give parents more control than they've had in the past, but they're hardly revolutionary. Parents can already set time limits for their kids on iPhones and Android phones. Adding that functionality to Instagram doesn't hurt, but for conscientious parents, it may be redundant.
Parents have also had the ability to block kids from accessing age-rated apps on smartphones for years. The fact that that control is only being rolled out for Quest now — or more precisely, next month — only underscores how far behind VR is on the evolutionary path of platform safety. If Meta really does view the metaverse as its future, then that part of the business is going to have to catch up fast.
But ultimately, there's only so much parental controls can achieve when not all parents bother to even set them. What child safety advocates and lawmakers have been most concerned about is not just how much time kids spend on Instagram, but also the way they can get dragged down into toxic rabbit holes once they're there. Instagram's new controls won't do much about that.
That said, Mosseri did indicate last year that the company was taking steps to tweak recommendations for teens and to nudge them toward different types of content when they're dwelling on one subject a little too long. Instagram spokesperson Faith Eischen told Protocol, "Those are areas we’re still actively working on."