Bioethics Blogs

The FTC Has Kidney-Punched Lumosity. Could Brain Stimulation Tech Be Next?

2016 got off to a bleak start for Lumos Labs, the brain-training software company whose advertisements you have almost certainly heard if you listen to NPR. On January 5th, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it had reached a settlement in a deceptive advertising case brought against Lumos over its Lumosity program, which purported to enhance cognitive performance and stave off age-related decline. The FTC alleged that “Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads,” and rather than litigate the issue any further, the company folded its cards and agreed to comply with a list of demands from the agency.

Although Lumos Labs takes a $2 million hit and henceforth will have to scale back its claims, it’d be an overstatement to call this settlement all stick and no carrot. The attractive part of the deal is that the makers of Lumosity don’t have to admit to any of the FTC’s pointed allegations about overblown or unsubstantiated marketing claims. Maybe they were not confident that the scientific grounding for their program would hold up in court; maybe they believed it would, but simply weren’t spoiling for a big legal battle. Winnable cases still get settled when the game’s not worth the candle.

While the no-fault-admitted provision is good news for Lumos Labs, it’s too bad for those of us who would have liked to see the agency and the company slug it out in open court. Just how much data, and of what overall quality, does a purportedly brain-boosting product’s maker need to pony up in order to survive having their bluff called by the FTC?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.