The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has settled an investigation into a pair companies that claimed to have created mobile apps that could detect skin cancer.
The commission found that the MelApp and Mole Detective apps had illegally advertised the ability to analyze an image of a mole and then calculate the probability that it was cancerous, when there was no scientific evidence to prove that either app could do any such thing.
Chicago-based New Consumer Solutions, which sold MelApp, and Mole Detective makers Health Discovery Corporation of Atlanta have both settled with the FTC, and both companies are banned from making any further claims that their apps can detect or diagnose early signs of melanoma.
Each company will also have to pay a fines relative to its revenues. New Consumer Solutions will cough up $17,963, while Health Discovery will pay $3,903.
Although the apps themselves were not in violation of FTC laws, the commission charged that neither had the appropriate scientific backing (such as results from clinical studies) to be able to claim the ability to detect and diagnose cancerous moles and growths. Because of this, the FTC alleged [PDF] that the apps ran afoul of advertising laws.
"Truth in advertising laws apply in the mobile marketplace," said FTC consumer protection bureau director Jessica Rich. "App developers and marketers must have scientific evidence to support any health or disease claims that they make for their apps."
The FTC says it will pursue separate legal cases against a UK-based firm, L Health Ltd, and its owner, Avrom "Avi" Lasarow. The agency alleges that both parties have been selling Mole Detective online to US customers since at least 2012, and neither was willing to settle.
The commission isn't the only US regulator that has been taking companies to task lately for making questionable medical claims. Earlier this year, when the Food and Drug Admininstration was laying out its rules for wearable health devices, the administration made a point of prohibiting devices from mentioning the ability to detect or diagnose specific conditions.
And in 2013, the FDA banned DNA testing startup 23andMe from selling its home testing kits as diagnostic aids, saying the company's claim that the kits could predict certain genetic diseases meant they qualified as medical devices and therefore couldn't be sold without strict regulatory oversight. ®