via Moak: Science doesn’t back up Lumosity’s claims, clarionledger.com, 1/6/2015
For the past few years, the creators and marketers of a program called Lumosity have piqued the interest of Web surfers, radio listeners and TV viewers with ads promising the program can improve memory, focus and concentration by having users participate in game-like online exercises. But on Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission charged that Lumosity’s claims were unfounded, amounting to deceptive advertising, and that it employed questionable practices regarding endorsements.
Lumos Labs, the company that created Lumosity, has agreed to pay $2 million to settle the charges. It will notify subscribers of the action and will make it easier for subscribers to cancel their service.
Lumosity markets its programs by using catchy advertisements, describing how its 40 unique brain exercises — if used for 15 minutes, a few times each week — could make us think faster, improve our thinking performance and even slow the effects of age upon our cognitive abilities. The company claims its technology is based on the “emerging science of neuroplasticity,” giving it some needed credibility. The science of neuroplasticity is real, but regulators say it wasn’t enough to support the claims Lumosity was making.
It was, however, effective; the 10-year-old company made millions. Subscribers could pay a monthly $14.95 fee or $299.95 for a lifetime membership, according to the FTC. The company’s $23 million in revenues and rapid growth placed it at No. 66 on Forbes’ 2013 list of America’s most promising companies. Started in 2005 by Stanford doctoral student Michael Scanlon, along with partners Kunal Sarkar and David Drescher, Lumosity rocketed to success on its claims that it could help make us better thinkers.
According to the FTC, Lumosity claimed its training would 1) improve performance on everyday tasks, in school, at work and in athletics; 2) delay age-related cognitive decline and protect against mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease; and 3) reduce cognitive impairment associated with health conditions, including stroke, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, ADHD, the side effects of chemotherapy and Turner syndrome; and that scientific studies proved these benefits.
“Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “But Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads.”
The FTC also accused the company of failing to disclose that “some consumer testimonials featured on the website had been solicited through contests that promised significant prizes, including a free iPad, a lifetime Lumosity subscription and a round-trip to San Francisco.” If true, that could cast doubt on the credibility of endorsers.
Lumosity will actually only pay a fraction ($2 million) of the original $50 million order; the FTC noted the remainder will be suspended due to the company’s financial condition if it pays the $2 million fine.
In the meantime, if you signed up for Lumosity before Jan. 1, 2015, and are on an auto-renewal plan, Lumosity should be sending you a notice that gives you a “one-click” option to cancel your subscription.