Source: Feds bite down on ‘Shark Tank’ winner, clarionledger.com
Getting behind the wheel after you’ve been drinking is never a good idea. But many people would pay good money to know if they’re legally impaired before they drive or do other tasks. And, it turns out, many have. After debuting on the hit show “Shark Tank” in 2013 (the first time all five “sharks” invested in a new product), the Breathometer hit the market and brought in millions in sales.
The Breathometer is a little pocket-sized device that uses your cellphone’s headphone jack, and it is used with a companion app. After drinking, the user breathes into the device, which then gives you a reading of your blood-alcohol content on the phone’s screen and informing you of whether your blood-alcohol level is within legal limits. The company marketed two devices, the Original (sold for $49), and the Breeze ($99).
While the “Shark Tank” investors were impressed and immediately saw the potential in the device, the reviews about its effectiveness were mixed. CNET reviewer Wayne Cunningham remarked, after testing the device, that the Breathometer “makes for a fun party game and a potential way to meet people in bars, but its testing results should not be taken as proof of driver safety.”
The product also caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which announced last week that the company had settled charges that its claims about the Breathometer’s accuracy weren’t backed up by scientific evidence and could endanger both drivers and the public by giving false reassurance to drivers.
“People relied on the defendant’s products to decide whether it was safe to get behind the wheel,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Overstating the accuracy of the devices was deceptive — and dangerous.”
The settlement requires the company and its founder and CEO, Charles Michael Yim, to cease from “making future accuracy claims for a consumer breathalyzer product unless such claims are supported by rigorous testing” against National Highway Traffic Safety Administration protocols. The company must also provide refunds to consumers who bought devices.
In a statement on its website, Breathometer noted it had settled the case and was moving on. Its next product, Mint, analyzes your breath for compounds that could indicate poor oral health. “We feel it is important to clarify that this settlement does not undermine our achievements in creating quality consumer health devices,” the statement read. “We proactively stopped manufacturing Original and Breeze in 2015 prior to the FTC’s inquiry. We stand behind our current product, Mint, and its quality and pioneering technology.”
We’ve seen a lot of cases come up in which companies claim their products are effective at doing some task or other, and back up those statements by saying their products have been tested (or even endorsed) by official agencies and reputable testing labs. Unfortunately, that’s not often the case, and sometimes the results can be dangerous. A wide range of products can cause potential harm or even death if a user trusts marketing claims, often in lieu of getting real medical or safety advice from experts.
“Representations about safety are of great significance to consumers,” the FTC said in its Deception Policy Statement, which gives guidelines about how companies should verify their advertising claims. “It’s usually hyperbole to suggest that companies substantiate their claims as if lives depend on it, but it’s an accurate statement for a product that promises to accurately test the BAC of a person who is deciding whether to drive after drinking,” added the FTC’s blogger Lesley Fair.
Since 950 Mississippians died in alcohol-related crashes in 2015 (according the Mississippi Department of Transportation), it’s a serious safety issue. Ultimately, deciding to drive after drinking is taking an incredible risk, one that might have catastrophic effects on your future and those of others. So, while such devices may be fun at parties, it’s far too big a decision to entrust to a smartphone.