Facebook is being held up in its attempts to launch a messaging app for children in the UK and Europe as it grapples with laws designed to protect the privacy of under-13s.
The social network is in discussions with Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC), its chief European regulator, about releasing Messenger Kids, an app that allows children to message parents and friends.
Children aged 12 and under are blocked from using Facebook due to laws that prevent the processing of personal data in many countries. Messenger Kids, meanwhile, is designed for users as young as six, allowing them to talk to contacts that are approved by their parents.
Facebook is currently assessing how Messenger Kids would comply with GDPR, the strict European data law that came into force two years ago, and which require parental consent if companies want to process data for children under 13.
A spokesperson for the DPC said: “We have been engaged and will continue to engage with Facebook in relation to Facebook Messenger Kids coming into the EU.”
The DPC is Facebook’s chief data watchdog in Europe, overseeing how the company handles the data for users including in the UK.
The company first launched Messenger Kids in the US in 2017. Last week it expanded this to more than 70 countries, although none are governed by GDPR.
Messenger Kids has been dogged by controversy since its launch, and its expansion into Europe is likely to raise concerns that the service could be misused.
When the service was first announced, Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary, criticised Facebook for launching a product aimed at children, and said that Facebook should “stay away from my kids”.
Last year a bug allowed children to bypass parental controls and talk privately with any Facebook user, provoking a backlash from US politicians.
Facebook said it consulted with experts when developing the app. It does not feature adverts and does not convert accounts into full Facebook profiles when a child turns 13. The company says since the app is controlled by parents, it is safer than alternative messaging apps.