Those of you who regularly watch television may remember seeing ads for an app that’s designed to exercise your brain muscle, ads that promise better mental function, ads that look like this:
“Lumosity.com is based on neuroscience, and it just seems like games, but it’s serious brain training.” Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, that statement, along with the company that released it, has recently scored high on the Federal Trade Commission’s shenanigans meter, and resulted in a lofty $2 million-dollar fine.
According to the FTC settlement, Lumos Labs, developer of the Lumosity brain training program, will be required to compensate customers who signed up for both online and mobile app subscriptions that automatically charged either $14.95 for a monthly access to the program or $299.95 for a lifetime membership. The company will also be required to provide their users with an easier way to cancel auto-renewal billing charges.
The amount of exposure that went into marketing Lumosity’s 40 games that claim to improve specific portions of the brain was detailed in the FTC complaint. Numerous TV ads, emails, and blog and social media posts were all designed to lead people to believe that through games, one can “improve performance on everyday tasks; improve performance in school, at work, and in athletics; delay age-related decline in memory and other cognitive function; and reduce cognitive impairment associated with various health conditions.” The company has also bought hundreds of keywords that increase Lumosity’s ranking in results when users search for terms related to Alzheimer’s disease, cognition, dementia, and memory, among others.
In an official statement announcing the settlement, FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Jessica Rich said that Lumosity did not have the science to back up the claims it made in its various commercials. The company also kept mum about how it solicited glowing user reviews for their website through contests that promised appealing prizes.
Lumos Labs defended its training program by calling attention to their contributions to the Human Cognition Project initiative, an online collaborative platform geared toward cognitive training research. It also said that while the FTC complaint has urged the company to make changes to its marketing strategies, it did not affect its dedication to extensive cognitive research or the improvement of their products.
Legally, the only products that can officially claim to treat, cure, or prevent serious ailments are those that have gone through the Food and Drug Administration’s rigorous review process, and there are currently no FDA-approved programs that train the brain to be better.