Meta will block “suspicious” people who try to contact Facebook or Instagram users under the age of 16

Meta is announcing increased efforts to protect underage users, with Facebook and Instagram administrators changing their privacy policies so that users in their teens cannot be contacted via direct messages by people identified as “suspicious” by the platform’s algorithms.

The new default privacy settings will be applied to newly registered accounts for teens under 16. With these changes, the visibility of friends list, tagged posts of pages and accounts they follow will be automatically set to “more private settings”. Meta says it will also get teens who already have accounts to accept the proposed privacy settings. The update follows a similar tweak announced for the Instagram network, with teen accounts being ticked to private mode since last year.

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As for the changes designed to prevent “suspicious” adults from contacting teens, on Facebook automated algorithms will block these accounts from showing up in the “people you may know” suggestion list. On Instagram, the company will test removing the message button from teen profiles. Meta didn’t explain exactly how it will determine who is “suspicious,” but said it will consider factors such as whether someone was recently blocked or reported by a younger user.

In addition, Meta announces a collaboration with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) on a “global platform” to prevent the unconsensual sharing of intimate images of teens. According to Meta, the platform, which could be launched by mid-December, will work similarly to a system designed to prevent the distribution of similar images to adult users. According to a Facebook spokesperson, the system will allow teens to generate a “private report” for images on their devices that they don’t want to share. The platform, operated by NCMEC, would then create a unique hash of the image, which would go into a database so that companies like Facebook can detect whether compromising images are being shared on their platforms. Importantly, the original image never leaves the teenager’s device, only its cryptographic signature is sent.

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