Feds Warn: These Melanoma Detection Apps Aren’t Supported By Scientific Evidence

MelApp is one of two melanoma detection apps that came under scrutiny by the FTC.

MelApp is one of two melanoma detection apps that came under scrutiny by the FTC.

Early detection of cancer can help save lives and make treatment easier, so the idea of mobile app that can spot possible skin might seem like a godsend… if there were any science to back it up.

The Federal Trade Commission announced today two settlement proposals and a lawsuit against the marketers of mobile detection apps Mole Detective and Mel App, both of which were marketed as ways for smartphone users to snap photos of a mole to determine its risk of being cancerous.

The FTC alleges that the marketers lacked adequate evidence to support claims that the apps could accurately analyze melanoma risk or could assess such risk in early stages.

With regard to Mole Detective, the FTC had filed a complaint [PDF] against both New Consumer Solutions LLC, which originally marketed the app when it launched in Jan. 2012, and L Health Ltd., which took over the marketing for Mole Detective about eight months later.

“Mole Detective does the work for you,” reads marketing materials for the app, “automatically identifying and measuring symptoms of melanoma.”

But the FTC says there was no evidence to substantiate these claims, and thus the marketing was misleading and in violation of the FTC Act’s prohibition against false advertising.

New Consumer Solutions and its owner agreed to settle with the FTC, but L Health has not settled and so the Commission is pursuing legal action against the company and its owner [PDF].

Mel App has been around since 2011 and was marketed by a company called Health Discovery. According to its ads, it “uses highly sophisticated patent protected state-of-the-art mathematical algorithms and image-based pattern recognition technology to analyze the uploaded image,” and that the app was “validated using an image database licensed from Johns Hopkins University Medical Center.”

Once again, the FTC complained [PDF], alleging that Mel App could not back up its claims of accurately diagnosing and detecting melanoma.

Health Discovery settled with the FTC and is now barred from claiming that any device detects or diagnoses melanoma or its risk factors, or increases users’ chances of early detection, unless represented by clinical testing. Health Discovery must also pay a $17,963 fine.

“Truth in advertising laws apply in the mobile marketplace,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “App developers and marketers must have scientific evidence to support any health or disease claims that they make for their apps.”