FTC fines melanoma diagnostic app makers for unsubstantiated claims

The Federal Trade Commission has reached a settlement with two companies, and is pursuing charges against two others, in relation to two apps that claim to detect melanoma.

In an announcement Monday, the FTC states marketers of MelApp and Mole Detective acted deceptively in claiming the apps can detect melanoma symptoms based on photographs a consumer uploads to the app. Two of the four companies involved with the apps have agreed to stop making unsupported and unsubstantiated claims.

"Truth in advertising laws apply in the mobile marketplace," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, in the announcement. "App developers and marketers must have scientific evidence to support any health or disease claims that they make for their apps."

The FTC action comes just weeks after the FTC settled with a computer software maker regarding deceptive claims tied to a game's ability to help boost children's mental acumen.

In the two new cases, New Consumer Solutions, owned by Kristi Kimball, developed Mole Detective in January 2012. The U.K.-based marketing company, L Health, owned by Avrom Lasarow, began marketing the app online, in August 2012. The app was sold in the Apple and Google stores for as much as $4.99, states the FTC.

The settlement with New Consumer Solutions prohibits the vendor from claiming an app can detect or diagnose melanoma unless the claim is supported by "competent and reliable scientific evidence in the form of human clinical testing of the device." It prohibits the company from making misleading or unsubstantiated health claims about a product or service, and includes a $3,930 fine. The FTC is pursuing a litigated judgment against non-settling defendants Lasarow and his company.

In regard to MelApp, marketing began online in 2011 by Health Discovery, which sold the app for $1.99. The FTC settlement bars the company from the same stipulations cited for New Consumer Solutions. The settlement prohibits Health Discovery from making any other misleading or unsubstantiated claims about a device's health benefits or efficacy, and includes a fine of $17,963.

The FTC decisions were split votes, with a dissenting vote issued by Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen in both cases.

For more information:
- read the FTC announcement
- read the commissioners' statement in favor of the decision
- read the dissenting commissioner statement

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