After a year long investigation, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman recently announced settlements with three popular mobile health measurement applications who claimed their products could measure a consumer’s heart rate without any external devices, using only a consumer’s smartphone camera and sensors. For example, Matis, the company behind My Baby’s Beat, advertised that its application could be used instead of a fetal heart monitor, even though its product was not approved by the Federal Drug Administration and its developers never compared the application’s performance to a scientifically proven device. Another measurement application, Cardiio, claimed it could measure consumers’ heart rates by simply having them hold their phone in front of their face.

The AG’s office said these companies lacked the scientific information and tests necessary to support their marketing claims therefore misleading consumers. Measurement health applications – which claim to test measurements like heart rate – are potentially more harmful to consumers than other health apps focused instead on tracking and health awareness. Consumers can rely on inaccurate readings from measurement health apps, think they are healthy, and not realize there might be a larger medical issue.

The companies agreed to change misleading marketing claims not supported by science and warn consumers that the applications are not the same as medical devices. Additionally, the AG’s office claimed the companies had irresponsible privacy policies: they collected personal health data, like a user’s heart-related conditions, as well as personally identifiable data, such as geolocation, without express user consent. The applications also agreed to update their privacy policies to disclose the type of personally identifiable data they collect and share and require explicit consent.

New York is not alone in prosecuting health applications who make unsupported marketing claims. The Federal Trade Commission settled charges last year with an application called Instant Blood Pressure, which claimed its application was just as accurate as a traditional blood pressure test using an around-the-arm cuff. The FTC alleged the company’s claims were scientifically unsupported and the application was actually significantly less accurate than a typical blood pressure test.

The health-focused mobile application industry is growing in popularity. There are now around 165,000 health-related apps available to Apple and Android users. They are undoubtedly convenient, beneficial tools promoting awareness and allowing users to more easily achieve health or fitness goals. However, the medical nature of their functions and personal data collected make monitoring misleading marketing claims and user data sharing practices important tasks for state and federal regulators.

Katherine Dashwood

 

 

 

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