Improving every day at a casual mobile or computer game might make you feel like you’ve accomplished something, but does it make you smarter? It’s possible, but if recent ads from Lumosity made you wonder how a company can legally claim that playing a simple game can help stave off Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, well, they can’t. As a result, Lumosity must pay $2 million to customers. There is also a court-ordered $50 million penalty involved, but that has been suspended because Lumosity doesn’t have the money to pay it.
You’ve probably seen or heard ads for Lumosity, which promised to provide a workout for your brain in just a few minutes a day of playing fun games on your computer, phone, or tablet. They advertised on TV, radio, podcasts, and bought ads on Google that popped up when users looked for information about various brain diseases.
“Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease,” Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement announcing the settlement. However, the research that Lumosity had didn’t back up the claims they were making, and the company charged customers $15 per month or $300 for a lifetime subscription based on those fears.
In addition to refunds and the the potential $50 million penalty, here’s what Lumosity has to do to avoid further wrath from the FTC and possibly the Food and Drug Administration:
1. Lumosity is no longer allowed to make claims that using their games improves cognitive ability to increase performance or helps stave off damage from phyiscal, age-related, or psychological illnesses that can affect thinking and memory, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Turner syndrome, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
2. The company can only make claims based on scientific research when it’s performed by qualified professionals and is completely randomized, blinded, and independent from the company itself.
3. Lumosity and its representatives can’t call their product or a similar one “clinically proven.”
4. If Lumosity’s claims about improved thinking and memory are true, that would make their game a drug, and subject to approval and regulation by the Food and Drug Administration.
5. User testimonials are great, but Lumosity solicited testimonials through a contest offering prizes like a lifetime subscription to the service, or a trip to San Francisco.
If you subscribe to the service, you should receive a notice soon telling you how to end your auto-renewing subscription if you have one, and also letting you know about this settlement once it’s finalized.