Under a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, a software vendor has agreed to pay $150,000 to the FTC and to stop making deceptive health claims that its app can improve users’ vision.
Calabasas, Calif.-based Carrot Neurotechnology Inc. and its co-owners are required to have “competent and reliable scientific evidence” before making vision claims for its Ultimeyes app and similar products, or claims regarding the health benefits, performance, efficacy, safety, or side effects of any product or service.
In the FTC’s February 22 final order, the company is also prohibited from misrepresenting any scientific research, and it is required to clearly disclose its connections with anyone conducting or participating in scientific research they cite as substantiation for their claims, and with anyone endorsing their products.
According to the FTC, Carrot Neurotechnology has advertised and sold Ultimeyes on the company’s website and through third-party app stores, including the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, claiming it is “scientifically shown to improve vision” and to “Turn Back The Clock On Your Vision.”
Further, the vendor’s ads claimed that users would benefit from “comprehensive vision improvement” for activities such as sports, reading and driving, and that using the app would reduce the need for glasses and contact lenses. The app, which sells for a one-time fee of $9.99 that includes unlimited use, is based on a series of visual exercises on either mobile devices or desktop computers.
Studies, including those conducted by Carrot Neurotechnology co-owner Aaron Seitz, were cited in company marketing materials as proof that Ultimeyes works. However, the FTC argues that Seitz’s studies and other “scientific research” do not prove that the app improves vision. The FTC also charges that the vendor failed to disclose Seitz’s affiliation with the company when touting his studies in ads.
“This case came down to the simple fact that Ultimeyes’ promoters did not have the scientific evidence to support their claims that the app could improve users' vision,” said Jessica Rich, director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Health-related apps can offer benefits to consumers, but the FTC will not hesitate to act when health-related claims are not based on sound science.”
“This is actually a complicated situation that has important policy implications and for which I believe the FTC made a terrible mistake that goes well beyond myself and my company and that sets a precedent that is harmful to the American people,” said Carrot Neurotechnology's Seitz, professor of psychology at the University of California-Riverside and director of the UCR Brain Game Center. “It is a horrible precedent that will prevent other scientists from trying to move their research into the market.”
Ultimeyes is not the only app that claims to improve vision. Eye doctors warn that these vision apps do not improve the function of the physical eye and that mobile apps should not replace the care of a trained eye care professional.
“By taking action against the Ultimeyes app, the FTC has acted decisively to safeguard public health, an effort the American Optometric Association is proud to support,” said AOA President Steven A. Loomis. “In fact, wherever we find similar violations of Federal or state law, our AOA and state associations will be pressing for full enforcement. Where laws may need to be updated to better protect the public, we will be an advocacy force.”
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