Brain-train kid game settles with FTC over 'unsupported' claims

Edu-app peddler will be watched closely, says watchdog

The US Federal Trade Commission has struck a settlement with an educational games developer over a complaint regarding its claims about the effectiveness of its products.

The FTC had accused Focus Education of loading its commercials with misleading claims that the company's software would improve the focus, attention and memory of children who played its brain-building Jungle Rangers game title.

According to the FTC complaint (PDF), the company did not have evidence to support its claims that the games help improve memory and attention span in children, including those diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Focus Education used both its website and a series of 30-minute "infomercial" ads to pitch parents on the iFocus learning system. The $214.75 bundle included the Jungle Rangers learning software and comic book as well as information for parents on managing "children’s behavior, exercise, and diet".

The FTC alleged that the ads contained unsubstantiated claims about the effectiveness of the product and its ability to improve memory functions. In particular, the FTC said that the ads misrepresented the game's ability to improve memory and focus in children with ADHD.

Though a study was cited to back up the claims, the FTC said that it was flawed.

"This study was not randomized, blinded, or controlled; the children’s performance in the self-regulation and emotion outcome measures was in the normal range before and after using Jungle Rangers;" the FTC said.

"The self-regulation, emotion, and feeling outcome measures do not measure focus, attention, or behavior; and the study did not conduct any follow-up testing to measure any permanent effects of Jungle Rangers training or collect any data on the children’s existing diagnoses or academic performance."

Under the terms of the deal (PDF), the company will for the next 20 years be forbidden from making any further misleading claims about the effectiveness of its products and for the next five years will allow the FTC to conduct investigations on its marketing and promotional materials as well as dealings with consumers.

Additionally, the agreement requires Focus to meet a set of requirements for any studies it commissions or conducts on the effectiveness its products, including making sure tests are double-blind, randomized and performed in controlled conditions by qualified researchers.

No mention was made of a fine or cash penalty, though the FTC noted that any further violations of the order could carry penalties of up to $16,000 per violation. ®

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