Smartphone users might be better off seeing a doctor than relying on a family of mobile apps to diagnose whether moles on their skin are cancerous.
The final defendant remaining in a U.S. Federal Trade Commission lawsuit alleging false or unsubstantiated claims for a family of purported melanoma detection apps has settled with the agency.
Under the settlement, Avrom Lasarow is barred from making further deceptive claims about his products, the FTC said Thursday. He and his company, L Health, advertised the Mole Detective family of apps, which were sold for up to US$4.99 in the Apple and Google app stores.
"We haven't found any scientific evidence that Mole Detective can accurately assess melanoma risk," Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. "If you're concerned that a mole may be cancerous, please see a health professional."
Lasarow and his company took over marketing the Mole Detective app in August 2012, after it was originally developed and marketed by Kristi Kimball and her company, New Consumer Solutions. Lasarow's company added derivative apps like Mole Detect Pro, the FTC said.
Lasarow, Kimball, and their companies were named in a February complaint filed by the FTC.
The Mole Detective apps instructed users to photograph a mole with a smartphone camera and input other information about the mole, the agency said in its complaint. The apps supposedly determined the mole's melanoma risk to be low, medium, or high.
The marketers deceptively claimed that the apps accurately analyzed melanoma risk and could assess the risk in early stages, the FTC alleged. The marketers lacked adequate evidence to support such claims, the agency charged.
Kimball and her company agreed to settle the charges before the FTC filed its complaint, and on May 29, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, entered a default judgment against L Health. Lasarow has now agreed to a stipulated order settling the agency's charges.
Under the proposed settlement, Lasarow is prohibited from making any misleading or unsubstantiated claims about the health benefits or efficacy of any product or service, including that a device detects or diagnoses melanoma. The proposed order also imposes a $58,623.42 judgment, which is suspended based on Lasarow's inability to pay.
Lasarow defended the apps. "The app stated that it should be used for educational purposes only and not replace a doctor visit," he said by email. "It is difficult for the regulators to keep up. But it is certainly necessary that they devise an approach that is helpful to developers and investors alike, while assuring adequate protection of consumers."
The FTC's complaint against the apps was "a real disappointment for preventative health and can prohibit emerging technology, but its clear that any technology must follow the appropriate regulatory processes," he added.
The decision to settle with the FTC was driven by potential litigation costs in other countries, Lasarow said. He made "no admissions" of any wrongdoing, he added.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is email@example.com.