You can do so much on your smartphone -- text, call, Snapchat, Instagram, CandyCrush, Tinder, Seamless, Uber…the list goes on. Among this blur of activity, an entire fleet of health apps have sprung up that harness the smartphone as a diagnosis tool of sorts. But a smartphone interaction with a doctor isn't a substitute for in-person professional medical diagnosis and the FTC wants everyone to know it.
Yesterday, the FTC cracked down on two smartphone apps -- both of which say they can detect early symptoms of melanoma -- for failing to make this distinction explicit.
The makers of MelApp and Mole Detective, two apps that analyze user photographs of moles, blemishes and worrisome skin areas in order to calculate the corresponding melanoma risk as low, medium or high, were fined by the FTC for deceptively claiming that their apps "accurately analyzed melanoma risk and could assess such risk in early stages," the agency wrote in a press release. "The marketers lacked adequate evidence to support such claims."
The apps, which were on the market from 2011 to 2012, were downloaded by thousands of people. While health apps have the potential to improve our health, many are relatively untested. That’s worrisome, particularly for apps that claim to provide early diagnosis and medical advice.
Consider, for example, the 2013 paper published in the Journal of the American Association, which zeroed in on four melanoma detection apps and found that three of them "incorrectly classified 30 percent or more of melanomas as unconcerning."
With the settlement, the makers of MelApp and Mole Detective will no longer be able to advertise the apps as accurate diagnostic tools until there is enough scientific evidence, "in the form of human clinical testing of the device," to substantiate the claim.