Instagram Quietly limits ‘Daily Time limit’ Option

Instagram Quietly limits ‘Daily Time limit’ Option

Is Mark Zuckerberg’s “well-spent time” over? Instagram appears to have silently eliminated the ability for mobile users to set a lower daily time limit reminder than 30 minutes, which appears to correspond with Facebook/Meta reporting decreasing growth. Indeed, the app’s user interface encourages users to set a three-hour ‘time restriction’ (see screengrab below). This daily time restriction setting sends a message to the user when their app activity reaches the set limit, reminding them to be mindful of how much time they spend on the app — and possibly making it easier for them to choose to quit voluntarily.

When it was making a huge PR push to suggest that more’mindful’ usage of its services was possible, as worry over social media addiction rose, the business backed a user-defined limit for Instagram that could be as low as 15 minutes — or even 10 minutes — every day. However, it appears that the attention-hungry adtech behemoth now wants Instagram users to spend more time scrolling through content streams on the photo- and video-sharing platform so that it can target them with adverts. It’s possible that this is due to pressure from the business side to achieve expansion…

Instagram Quietly limits ‘Daily Time limit’ Option

Meta reported flat quarter-over-quarter usage for its eponymous app (Facebook) — and near flat growth for its other apps, which it lumps under a “family of apps” moniker rather than breaking out Instagram, WhatsApp, and other usage separately in its earnings earlier this month. (Daily active users of this ‘other apps’ category increased from 2.81 billion in Q3 to 2.82 billion in Q4, while monthly active users increased from 3.58 billion in Q3 to 23.59 billion in Q4, while Facebook usage remained unchanged, at 1.93 billion DAUs and 2.91 billion MAUs.) When the company’s poor Q4 results were released, it shaved 20% off its value, which could be one reason why Meta’s growth teams are experimenting with different levers to drive engagement from existing consumers.

An Instagram tipster alerted TechCrunch to the move by sharing screenshots of their account (see photos below), which show the business urging them to “set a new value for your daily limit” — because “the available daily limitations are changing as part of an app update,” as it puts it. (Meta gets full scores for writing a sentence that lacks any explanation for why it’s making arbitrary adjustments to limit consumers’ control.) This user had previously set a daily restriction of 10 minutes.

However, they’re now being told that this option is no longer available — and, presumably, any users who hadn’t set a daily limit or had chosen a different (higher) limit were unaware that the 10-minute option had been deprecated. While Instagram’s notification to users of the change to daily limits states that they can keep their current 10 minute limit, the app uses overt dark patterns to nag them into changing it, such as by popping up a notification right above the 10 minute limit that’s indicated on their “time on Instagram” settings page, which also instructs:

“This value can no longer be used.” Please amend” — all of which is plainly intended to make people believe they are required to change their limit. “My option has vanished, and if I try to modify it, my old minimum of 10 minutes becomes the new minimum of 30 minutes,” the tipster informed TechCrunch.

This silent adjustment, according to the insider, is akin to “a tobacco business stating you may restrict your packs a day because it takes away smaller packs.” “They don’t force the modification,” they explained, “but if you go into the edit page as instructed, you’ll have to force quit the app to go out without changing anything.”

In the face of a big T&Cs backlash, Facebook/Meta used a similarly manipulative persistent notification strategy to try to force a policy update on WhatsApp users, which resulted in a (ongoing) consumer protection enquiry in the EU. However, the firm has a long and ignoble history of doing things like this. So yet, nothing has surprised me. That does not, however, make it acceptable. However, organizations like Meta are finding it more difficult to pull the wool over people’s eyes. Dark trends are catching the attention of oversight bodies. Consider legislators in the European Union’s parliament, who recently voted overwhelmingly in favor of including clear limitations on such misleading practices in impending legislation that would apply to a wide range of digital platforms. As a result, it appears that platforms’ ability to profit from cynically self-serving defaults (or “accessible” settings) is dwindling.