Lumos Labs Inc. of San Francisco, the maker of Lumosity, the “brain training” games has agreed to pay $2 million in refunds to settle federal charges that it deceived customers about the cognitive and health benefits of its apps and online products.
The Federal Trade Commission said that this, marks the highest penalty paid on a growing industry that’s come under scrutiny by scientists and regulators in recent months.
Regulators accused San Francisco-based Lumos Labs of making unfounded claims about what its games could do to delay the symptoms of and protect against conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and to reduce cognitive impairment from stroke and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The company has a following of 70 million users by marketing Lumosity products directly to consumers for $15 per month, or $300 for a lifetime membership.
“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 company said in a statement that the FTC’s charges and the resulting settlement stem from “marketing language that has been discontinued” and that the company’s focus “has not and will not change.”
Lumosity’s online, radio, and TV ads before the settlement revealed a clear marketing campaigns targeted to those worried about specific diseases and health conditions.
Users signing up on Lumosity’s website were presented with several testimonials under the heading “Benefits Everyone” — including one from a woman who said she joined Lumosity at first for her mother, who had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. A 2009 blog post on the site offered the testimonial of a man who suffered from a stroke “and now uses Lumosity to regain lost mental function.”
Other Lumosity ads said the company’s online games could help stop the normal effects of aging. The website claimed as recently as 2013 that people have “used brain training to sharpen their daily lives and ward off cognitive decline.” And an ad on the online radio service Pandora asked listeners if they could remember the song that just played — before telling them that “Most people find that memory declines with age. But your memory doesn’t have to.”
“Brain training” games like those marketed by Lumosity have been resoundingly attacked by scientists as well as federal regulators. In October 2014, more than 70 psychologists and other scientists signed a letter criticizing the industry for creating false hope among aging baby-boomers with shoddy science and implausible claims.