Seriously, stop claiming your two-buck photo app can detect cancer

FTC settles out of court with melanoma-spotting software

Snake oil salesman

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reached a final settlement with an app developer accused of misleading people into believing its software could detect skin cancer.

The commission said Health Discovery Corporation, the makers of the $1.99 MelApp application for iPhones, will no longer be able to claim that it can either detect or increase the chances of detecting melanoma.

Health Discovery will also pay a fine of $17,693 and any future claims about the capabilities of the software will have to be backed up with valid research and studies.

The FTC had filed a complaint in February against Health Discovery and another developer, New Consumer Solutions (who has already settled), arguing that their melanoma detection tools were violating the law by claiming to detect cancer without adequate proof or research backing.

MelApp instructed users to take photos of any suspicious moles or lesions on their skin, and upload them to Health Discovery's servers. The app then claimed to use image-recognition tools in the cloud to assess whether a mark could be a sign of skin cancer.

"Truth in advertising laws apply in the mobile marketplace," FTC consumer protection bureau director Jessica Rich said when the complaints were revealed. "App developers and marketers must have scientific evidence to support any health or disease claims that they make for their apps."

Health Discovery Corporation had already agreed to the terms of the settlement, which was also passed by the FTC in a 4-1 vote. Monday's filing finalizes the settlement agreement and closes the case.

It may not, however, be the last such case involving mobile devices and health claims. Government regulators have been wrangling over where the line should be drawn between general heath and wellness apps and devices, such as exercise and fitness trackers, and those dedicated medical devices that are subject to stricter controls and research standards. ®

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