FTC Settles with the Mobile App Game for Kids That Made “Brain-Training” Claims

A Texas-based company called Focus Education claimed in infomercials and other ads that its ifocus System, including the Jungle Rangers computer App game, was scientifically proven to help kids focus, enhance memory, boost attention, and improve behavior and school performance. "This case is the most recent example of the FTC’s efforts to ensure that advertisements for cognitive products, especially those marketed for children, are true and supported by evidence," said Jessica Rich, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Many parents are interested in products that can improve their children’s focus, behavior, and grades, but companies must back up their brain training claims with reliable science.”

The ifocus System, including the Jungle Rangers App, was sold via television infomercials and the company’s websites for approximately $215, and generated sales of approximately $4.5 million between 2012 and the middle of 2013. The infomercial featured children stating that because of Jungle Rangers they could “pay attention to [their] teacher a lot more,” and got “better grades,” and “a lot more 100 percents,” according to the FTC complaint. Parents, teachers, and a child psychiatrist also appeared, raving about Jungle Rangers and stating that it had improved children’s school performance and behavior, even for kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”). 

Specifically, the company claimed that the product gave kids “the ability to focus, complete school work, homework and to stay on task” and that the benefits were scientifically proven. Allegedly, the game was based on the “cutting edge science” of “integrated neuro technology,” and Jungle Rangers was touted as “scientifically engineered to strengthen important neuron connections.” Moreover, the company’s website implied that the benefits would be permanent. According to the company, “research shows that once neuro pathways have been opened or strengthened they do not recede unless there is either a disease or until the onset of issues later with aging.”  

The company, however, ran into problems with the FTC. Indeed, the agency frequently scrutinizes claims for products relating to children, and has an increasing focus on cognitive claims. The company entered into a settlement with the agency. The proposed settlement prohibits Focus Education and its principals from making the claims alleged in the complaint about the ifocus System (or any substantially similar product), unless the claims are non-misleading and are supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence. The proposed settlement further prohibits the company and its principals from making unsubstantiated claims about the benefits, performance, or efficacy of products or services that supposedly alter the brain’s structure or function, improve cognitive abilities, behavior, or academic performance, or treat or reduce the symptoms of cognitive disorders, including ADHD. Finally, the proposed order bars the company and its principals from misrepresenting the results of any test, study, or research; or misrepresenting that the benefits of a cognitive improvement product are scientifically proven.

Take away:  The settlement illustrates the importance of having scientific or factual data to support scientifically guaranteed and cognition-related claims in advertising. It also stresses the FTC’s scrutiny of mobile Apps that make performance claims. We therefore advise companies to be sure that they have sufficient support for such claims, particularly when those claims relate to children.

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