Lumos Labs, maker of the popular Lumosity app, has agreed to a $2 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over accusations that the marketing and descriptions of the company's "brain training" service constitute deceptive advertising.
In wide-reaching advertisements across television, radio, and the Internet, Lumos Labs claimed that its subscription-based Lumosity service could improve users' cognitive functions, such as memory, attention, and recall, by training the brain with short game-like "workouts." The company even went so far as to suggest that regular "training" via its service could delay or prevent conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease, and reduce the cognitive side effects of chemotherapy and PTSD.
One of Lumosity's many television ads.
Without sound science to back up the company's claims, the FTC accused Lumos Labs of deceptive advertising, and also dinged the company for failing to disclose that many of the "consumer testimonials" featured on its website were solicited through giveaways with significant prizes, including free iPads, lifetime Lumosity subscriptions, and free trips to San Francisco.
Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease. But Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads.
In addition to the $2 million fine, the settlement requires that Lumos Labs and its executives must have "competent and reliable scientific evidence" before making future claims about any benefits of its service. The company must also notify all auto-renew subscribers who signed up between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2014, make them aware of the FTC's action, and provide a means to cancel their accounts without penalty.
The FTC's original action called for a $50 million penalty, but that order was suspended after a review of the company's "financial condition" revealed that it did not have the assets to meet that obligation.
The Lumosity app remains available on the iOS App Store (an "Editors' Choice," no less), although it no longer makes any claims about specific health benefits, instead relying on more vague "challenge your brain" terminology.