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Irish watchdog probes Instagram over protection of children's data

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The investigations follow concerns that the personal information of young users was publically available on Instagram.
The investigations follow concerns that the personal information of young users was publically available on Instagram.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
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Privacy regulators in Ireland have opened two investigations into social media giant Instagram over its handling of young users' personal data.

The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) said it launched the probes in September after receiving complaints about the company that phone numbers and email addresses of under-18s were being accessed by all users on the site.

"Instagram is a social network that is widely used by children in Ireland and across Europe," said Deputy Commissioner Graham Doyle.

The watchdog will determine whether the application has a "legal basis" to put in place the necessary safeguards to protect users' data, especially in the case of minors.

Users must be at least 13 years old to open an account on Instagram.

The regulator will also check that the social network complies with the European Data Protection Regulation regarding the configuration of profiles and accounts.

"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,'' said the Commission in a statement.

Facebook, which owns the Instagram app, said it is in "close contact'' with the commission and is "cooperating with their inquiries".

The tech giant could face a large fine if Instagram is found to have broken privacy laws.

Ireland hosts the European headquarters of a number of technology firms, and the DPC acts as the EU’s lead regulator under the bloc’s General Data Protection Regulations, which were introduced in 2018.

The new rules give regulators the power to impose fines for violations of up to 4% of a company’s global revenue, or €20 million.

In a 2019 study by US data specialist David Stier, Instagram users under the age of 18 could easily switch their personal accounts to a business account with their contact information displayed.

Analysis of 200,000 accounts worldwide found that personal information was made public when users switched account settings to see how many likes their posts were getting.

Last year, Instagram started removing the interaction features from personal accounts in some countries to help with mental health.

Facebook said it updated its policies Stier's findings and "individuals can now choose not to display all of their contact information".