Acne app developers in a spot of bother

Two developers look set to be ordered to stop making bogus claims about smartphone apps that could supposedly treat acne.

AcneApp and Acne Pwner both “worked” by emitting red or blue lights from the screen. The user was supposed to hold the screen next to the spotty skin for several minutes a day, with suggestions it could “kill” or “eliminate” the condition.

AcneApp even claimed to be based on a study published by the British Journal of Dermatology showing such treatments could reduce skin blemishes by 76 percent because the light killed off Propionibacterium acnes, a bacteria that secretes chemicals that damage the walls of blocked pores.

The Federal Trade Commission found that the developers had misrepresented the study. While the bacteria can indeed be killed by ultraviolet light, the light produced by a smartphone screen is neither the right frequency nor anywhere near the intensity required for such treatment.

Earlier this year, the British Association of Dermatologists said ” “The study mentioned from the British Journal of Dermatology doesn’t refer to the kind of light that would be emitted by a cell phone. This application won’t take care of acne and isn’t a substitute for clinically proven treatment options readily available from a physician.”

The FTC has now unanimously proposed a compulsory settlement in place of taking legal action. Under the settlement, the AcneApp creators would pay a fine of $14,294 while the person behind Acne Pwner would pay $1,700. Both would be formally barred from repeating the claims in the future. They’d also be legally barred from making any future scientific claim without evidence, or misrepresenting any scientific study; doing so would immediately make them liable to legal action.

The two cases are the first time the FTC has taken action over health claims in mobile apps.

Surprisingly the fines don’t appear to be the entire amount the developers made from the apps. AcneApp alone sold around 11,600 copies in the iTunes store at $1.99 a time, meaning the developers’ take was more than $16,000.

The settlement is out for public consultation before a second formal vote to approve next month, at which point it would take legal effect.

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5 Responses to Acne app developers in a spot of bother

    • How? If you neither knew the actual sciences involved in "light" nor Computer Science, how could you possibly establish a foundation for logics in such fields?

      A Mathematician could claim that there was a connection between certain algorithms, and peoples behavior.
      I wouldn't know whether such claims were true or false. Nor do i "know" whether Gravity truly exists…

      • So.. If I claim that my app which plays "The Brown Noise" for 27.42 seconds at 10db will eradicate acne, and come up with some half-baked study that links sound and acne, you are NOT an idiot for buying it? Since when is ignorance a legitimate defense?

  1. @LA theDJ — clearly, you've never suffered from acne and, like the majority of people, can't even remotely empathize with the despair of those who are affected by it. Acne sufferers would try ANYTHING to get rid of it, from whitening toothpaste to abrasive detergents, believe me, it's excruciating, and to exploit their desperation is utterly wrong. Obese people can diet, but acne is never your own fault and it's a punishment for no crime, which is why so many acne sufferers despair to the point of suicide. Have a heart and pray you never walk in acne's shoes.