Sunday, January 27, 2013

Instagram, Facebook see red flags after service lockouts, requests for photo IDs

A number of Instagram's users are confused after being locked out of their accounts this weekend. The lock out scenario is bad enough, but as The Verge reported on Saturday, what has really caused a high degree of concern among users is the request that those locked out upload scans of their "government-issued photo IDs."

If you think it sounds like a Voter ID law, you'd be right. In this case, though, users are wondering -- and rightfully so in this age of phishing -- if the requests are real or are instead hacking attempts.

A spokesperson has confirmed that the requests are valid. They are, the representative said, being done by Instagram and Facebook in response to suspected violations of the services' terms of service.
This is just a general practice for both Facebook and Instagram to request photo IDs for verification purposes depending on what type of violation may have occurred. Unfortunately, I can’t share more with you beyond that as we don’t go into details beyond that.
In other words, the representative can't say exactly what sort of triggers exist that would cause such a lock-out and request for photo ID.

Still more frustrating for some users is that Instagram and Facebook do not accept all types of ID. If that happens, the services will send follow-up emails asking users to provide even more documentation, going so far to ask for scans of users' birth certificates. One such email (emailer name redacted) said:

We’re sorry, but we can’t verify your claim based on the ID you provided. Please reply to this email with a different government-issued photo ID. This ID must include your full name and date of birth. If any of this information is located on the back of the document, be sure to include an image of this as well.

If you don’t have a government-issued photo ID, we need you to send us two things:
  • A copy of a photo ID (ex: work or school ID)
  • A copy of an official document verifying your name and age (ex: birth certificate)
These documents must be from a respected institution (ex. business, university) and combined must show your full name, birthday and identification photo. We will permanently delete these documents after we resolve your issue.

Note that we will not be able to process your request unless you send in proper ID. Sorry for the inconvenience.


User Operations
To be clear, this procedure began back in February of 2012, prior to Facebook's acquisition of Instagram in April of that year. At the time, Facebook confirmed that it had begun asking some users to provide government-issued photo IDs, but the company said that it was only “testing this process right now with people who have a large number of subscribers,” and would “iterate based on the feedback we receive.”

It seems that such requests are no longer made solely to those with large subscribers bases: At least one user who has been requested to supply photo ID had only about 200 friends and followers.

The requests for photo ID seemed to coinciden with Instagram's recent changes to its terms of service, which were similarly met with anger and confusion. Then, perhaps as now, had Instagram actually explained to users what the changes meant, there may have been little fallout.

We've reached out to the company for a more detailed statement, but have not received anything other than the above rather vague comment.

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