Marketers of mobile apps claiming the ability to detect symptoms of melanoma are being challenged for deceptive marketing techniques by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC charged that no scientific evidence supported the claims of the ability to detect early stage melanoma. The FTC reached settlements with some marketers of MelApp and Mole Detective, while charges are being pursued against two additional Mole Detective marketers who refused to settle.
Users were instructed to submit a photograph and other information about moles found on their body. The apps used this information to calculate melanoma risk. Although the apps suggested that users see a physician over melanoma concerns, the FTC’s associate director for advertising practices, Mary Engle, said that marketing gave the impression that the apps were diagnosis tools. In 2013, the Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of a study on the classification of melanomas by various apps conducted by dermatologists. Although the apps were not named, three of the apps were found to incorrectly classify at least 30 percent of melanomas as low risk.
Mole Detective was created and first marketed by Kristi Kimball’s company New Consumer Solutions, LLC in January 2012. Avrom Lasarow’s company L Health Ltd. oversaw marketing from August 2012 forward. The Kimball settlement prohibits the company from claiming that an app can detect or diagnose melanoma unless this statement is supported by scientific evidence obtained by clinical testing, and the company must disgorge $3,930. Lasarow and his company did not settle, and the FTC will pursue litigated judgment.
MelApp was marketed by Health Discovery Corporation in 2011. A proposed settlement contains prohibitions similar to the Mole Detective settlement on claims regarding the app’s reliability. The company must disgorge $17,963.