Updated, 3:03 p.m. EST, Monday, January 28
Over the past week, a number of users of the popular photo sharing app Instagram and parent company Facebook have been locked out of their accounts and prompted by both services to upload images of their government issued photo IDs to regain access, as CNET first reported on Tuesday.
Concerned users seeking to regain account access have turned to several outlets online, including Yahoo Answers, to try and determine whether or not the prompts asking for images of their IDs are real or are hacking attempts.
TPM itself has received a number of emails and communications from users reporting that they have been abruptly locked out of their accounts and asked to provide photos of their IDs.
Here’s a screenshot of one such prompt sent to a user on Instagram:
Here’s a screenshot of one such prompt from Facebook:
As several concerned users pointed out to TPM, the prompt from Facebook misspelled the word “license” as “liscence,” leading some to believe it was fake. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the authenticity of both prompts to TPM and that the typographical error was made on Facebook’s end, and has since been corrected.
More frustrating still for some users, not all IDs have been accepted, leading Facebook and Instagram to send follow-up emails asking users to provide more documentation, including their birth certificates, if necessary. Check out the transcript of one such email forwarded to TPM below (name edited):
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.
“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,” a spokesperson for Facebook told TPM. “Unfortunately, I can’t share more with you beyond that as we don’t go into details beyond that.”
Facebook declined to state exactly why a number of users would collectively receive notifications to provide government issued IDs this week or what specific violations of terms prompted the notifications.
Back in February 2012, well prior to its acquisition of Instagram in April that year, Facebook confirmed that it had begun asking some users to provide government issued photo IDs, but at that time, a Facebook PR rep told TPM that the company 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.”
That iteration seems to have extended the online ID checks to people even with relatively small numbers of Friends and followers, as one user who emailed TPM to complain only reported having about 200.
Facebook’s own spokesperson told TPM the government-issued ID checks were only being done “if we have reason to believe the person is potentially in violation of the Terms,” irrespective of a user’s number of followers and Friends.
Nonetheless, Instagram’s new terms of service do have several additional bits of language that specifically give it the power to suspend a user’s account at will.
Whereas the terms of service prior to January 19 simply stated that Instagram could terminate a user’s account for any of some 14 basic terms (no nude or sexually suggestive photos, no harassment of other users), the new terms allow for a more nebulous process of account disabling.
“We reserve the right to modify or terminate the Service or your access to the Service for any reason, without notice, at any time, and without liability to you,” reads one clause in the new terms of service as of January 19, 2013, which also later state: “We reserve the right to refuse access to the Service to anyone for any reason at any time.”
The fact that Instagram is asking some users to provide government-issued photo IDs to prove their identity before restoring access to their accounts is arguably more difficult to understand than in the case of Facebook, as Facebook’s terms of service require users to “provide their real names and information, and we need your help to keep it that way,” where Instagram’s terms contain no such obligation.
On the contrary, many Instagram user account names use pseudonyms, nicknames, shortened names and other stylized usernames that bear only slight or no resemblance to a person’s legal name. Celebrities including pop singer Rihanna often employ stylized usernames, for example. Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s Instagram username is a shortened version of his surname. It’s unclear, for now, whether Instagram will be moving to a real names policy as well.
Facebook and Instagram declined to provide further comment on their policies around ID submission at this time beyond what was included in this report.
Late update: Updated in copy to clarify that the typo observed in the Facebook ID prompt, the misspelling of “license,” was made on Facebook’s end and has since been corrected.