Pressing Your Phone Camera Against Your Finger Will Not Measure Your Blood Pressure

The tiny sensors in our smartphones can do amazing things, but what they cannot do is substitute for a blood pressure cuff. That’s unfortunate, because having your blood pressure measured can be painful and unpleasant. However, one app-maker ran afoul of federal regulators by claiming that your smartphone camera could be used to accurately check your vitals.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, developer Aura’s Instant Blood Pressure app did three things to cross the legal line.

First, it marketed the app by bragging about how accurate it is compared to a blood pressure cuff, which the FTC points out is not actually the case.

Second, the company’s own CEO left a review in Apple’s App Store without disclosing his relationship to the company.

Finally, the company’s website was full of enthusiastic testimonials, which the FTC determined were from employees and their family members.

Right.

Right.

Part of what the app uses to calculate your blood pressure are the average figures for someone of your height, weight, and age. It supposedly combines that with data from the camera and microphone to give you a measurement. The tiny problem with that is that it doesn’t work.

“[S]tudies demonstrate clinically and statistically significant deviations between the App’s measurements and those from a traditional blood pressure cuff,” the FTC noted in its complaint [PDF] against the company. That’s minor if you’re just measuring your blood pressure for fun, but not if you’re depending on the device to replace your home blood pressure monitor.

The company charged $3.99-$4.99 to download the Instant Blood Pressure Monitor in Apple and Google’s app marketplaces, taking in a total of around $600,000. The FTC found the app’s marketing to be “false or misleading,” and the company was not able to substantiate its claims, because the technology it advertised does not seem to exist.

The FTC has imposed a judgement of $595,945.27, but suspended it because the company and its executives are unable to pay.

The epilogue, though, is that there are still plenty of apps like this available in the app stores for both iOS and Android phones. You can still download and buy an app that claims to measure your blood pressure through your phone camera. Some of them say that they’re for “prank” use, or “for entertainment purposes only.” Right.

Consumerist asked the FTC why they pursued Aura Labs and these other apps are still for sale, and they responded by explaining that the agency’s resources are limited, so they made an example of what was the most popular apps of this type at the time.

“The Instant Blood Pressure App sold by Aura Labs was one of the top grossing health and fitness apps when we started our investigation,” an FTC attorney explained to Consumerist in an email. “The impact of this case goes beyond just this particular app because people can apply the lessons of this case to other apps they may be thinking of buying. Other app developers should be looking at those lessons, too.”

Watch out, makers of those other apps. Annoyed users might start reporting you to Apple and Google as “inappropriate.”