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Baseball lore has it that Hall of Famer Ted Williams’ eyesight was so acute he could see the seams on a fastball. Developers of an app called Ultimeyes claimed that using their product “gives baseball players superhuman vision.” For some of us though, a daily task like reading a menu in a dimly lit restaurant is a swing and a miss. No problem, said the company. “25 minutes on this app will improve your vision by 31%” – results supposedly verified by a published university study. But a three-count FTC complaint alleges that the advertisers struck out in the substantiation department. In addition, check out what they didn’t tell consumers about an endorser prominently featured in their ads.

California-based Carrot Neurotechnology pitched Ultimeyes with the promise that it was “scientifically shown to improve vision.” Consumers shelled out between $5.99 and $9.99 to download the app from Carrot’s site or buy it at popular app stores. In addition to boosting athletic performance, the app was advertised to enhance night vision and correct presbyopia – the medical term for aging eyes that can’t read things up close. Another claim the FTC alleges was off-base: Carrot said that users would be able to read two lines further down the Snellen chart, the diagnostic tool that hangs on the wall of every eye doctor’s office. They even claimed that Ultimeyes improved some test subjects’ vision not just to 20/20, but to 20/7.5.

But according to the complaint, Carrot didn’t have proof to back up those claims. The FTC says the representation that Ultimeyes was supported by scientific testing was a balk, too. And speaking of science, Carrot’s ads claimed that research conducted by Aaron Seitz – identified in some marketing materials as “Associate Professor, Psychology” – established that Ultimeyes improves vision. In fact, Seitz is Carrot’s co-owner and Chief Scientist, material connections the FTC says should have been disclosed.

The proposed settlement, which names the company, CEO Adam Goldberg, and Seitz, requires them to back up a host of future claims with competent and scientific evidence and imposes $150,000 in disgorgement. You can file a public comment online by October 19, 2015.

What’s the scouting report for other companies?

  • The rulebook remains the same.  Established truth-in-advertising principles apply across the board, including to apps.
  • Dramatic health claims are likely to catch the umpire’s eye.  Fans often complain about umps’ eyesight, but a claim to improve vision by 31% will attract everyone’s attention, including the FTC’s. Before making health-related representations, advertisers must have in hand competent and reliable scientific evidence appropriate for the nature of the claim. If you refer to scientific research or studies, that’s a whole new ballgame. You need at least the level of proof you say you have.
  • Acknowledge your teammates. Under the FTC’s Endorsement Guides, if there’s a connection between an advertiser and an endorser that consumers wouldn’t expect and it would affect how they evaluate the endorsement, disclose it. The FTC called foul on Ultimeyes’ marketing materials for prominently touting Aaron Seitz’s research, but failing to adequately disclose his affiliation with the company.
     

Comments

These policies are adequate to check frivolous advert claims and also protects the interests of the unassuming public. Keep up the good work.

Why aren't you going after bigger fish, like Luminosity? They are raking in billions and have also got lots of unsubstantiated claims for their products. Is the FTC afraid of Luminosity's lawyer power? Going after Carrot's owners is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Is this supposed to be a humorous commentary about a not-at-all funny attack on a scientist's credibility? If the FTC would like for its complaints to be taken seriously, perhaps it should attempt a modicum of professionalism. Clear scientific communication demands some amount of scientific training, which evidently played no part in either this post or the formal complaint.

Your very correct FTC nothing is Funny science has not determined if a video can make you see

Thank you. Good Job.
Wish you could keep up with more of these scams.
To "Science Community"... When an ASSOCIATE Professor (not tenured) of Psychology, (not ophthalmology), starts making claims to have invented a way to cure bad eyesight, that is not in any way scientific. He has the same credentials in this case as a mechanical engineer (and I don't mean to insult Engineers). Only a fool would term his efforts scientific, i.e. published studies in peer reviewed journals and verification by ophthalmological professionals (you know... doctors?)

Congratulations FTC -- you demand evidence, yet you ignore the decades of peer-reviewed scientific evidence in support of Prof. Seitz's claims. You ignore the expert vision scientists who are most qualified to evaluate the evidence, all with a Procrustean demand of randomized controlled trials. Psychophysical training is not the same as drugs! Then you level a Draconian fine on someone trying to actually help the public after receiving all the NIH grant funding. I've received lots of federal research grant funding during my career, but I'll think hard now before I try to use my own research findings to help the public.

I agree with the previous statement. I read the research before purchasing Ultimeyes. Peer-reviewed journals supported the underlying science and Ultimeyes worked for My son and I. I wore glasses before and tested 20/20 after use. My son's vision was deteriorating fast but stabilized after using Ultimeyes. Before and after testing was done by competent professionals. However, I do agree that a large randomized trial should be a requirement for publicly making these claims. As credentials, a psychologist is much better qualified to improve perceptions that an ophthalmologist. Moreover, Associate Professors the the University of California are tenured professors which means that they are published researchers. I also agree that any one of hundreds of nutritional supplements or "diet aides" would be better subjects for prosecution that the developers of a product that actually works.

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