The British developer of a mobile phone app for young fans of One Direction has been criticised for showing an advertisement for a dating website.
The app – a game called Date One Direction (D1D) – developed by Digicub, features an advert from Zoosk, a popular dating website, despite claiming that the app is suitable for children as young as nine.
The D1D app, free to download, gives young fans the chance to virtually date stars of the UK's biggest boyband. Since its release in 2012, it has accumulated more than 1.5 million downloads worldwide, and is the most successful of Digicub's apps, which include "I Love JB [Justin Bieber]".
The advert appears as a small but visible button encouraging its users to take up an offer of a "Free Zoosk Download".
Claire Lilley, the NSPCC's Head of Child Safety Online, said the appearance of a dating-site advertisement on the app is "extremely concerning".
An Advertising Standards Authority spokeswoman said that if it received complaints, the advert would most likely be assessed under ASA "social responsibility" guidelines.
However, Zoosk, responding to a request for comment, said last night: "We were not aware that our ad was placed in this app and we are... working with our advertising vendors to have it removed. Our service is for those [of] 18 and over."
Concern has also been raised about the content of the app itself. Its blurb says: "Do you love One Direction? Have you ever dreamed of dating them? Well now you can!" And, "How about treating Niall to breakfast in bed? Or taking Harry for a picnic? Or heating things up with a romantic bubble bath."
Sophie Linington, who runs The Parent Zone, an internet advice website, said: "I'm surprised, given that it's aimed at nine-year-olds and young teenagers. It's not helpful for young girls to get that message [that they can share a bath]."
Digicub was asked for comment, but, at the time of going to press, had not responded.