Lumos Labs, the company behind the "brain training" program Lumosity has agreed to pay $2 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it deceived consumers.
For 10 years, the Lumosity program was marketed to consumers and its 70 million users as a way to keep their brain sharp and healthy, despite a lack of conclusive scientific evidence for such claims.
"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 in a press statement. "But Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads."
Questions about the validity of claims about brain games have piled up in recent years. In 2014, a group of about 70 neuroscientists released an open letter warning that claims about positive effects of brain games on people's cognitive skills and brain health are not based on actual science.
Lumosity is one of the most well-known brain training products in an industry that's been forecasted to reach $6 billion in 2020. The program includes more than 40 games, each of them purportedly targeting a specific brain area. The company sold subscriptions for these games, with options ranging from monthly payments of $14.95 to lifetime memberships for $299.95.
According to the FTC's complaint, the company claimed that training with these games for a recommended three to four times a week "will improve performance on everyday tasks; will improve school, work, and athletic performance; will delay age-related decline in memory and protect against other age-related conditions such as mild cognitive impairment, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease; and will reduce cognitive impairment associated with the side effects of chemotherapy, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Turner syndrome, stroke, and other health conditions."
The FTC also alleged that some consumer testimonials on the Lumosity website had been solicited through contests that promised significant prizes, including a free iPad and a round-trip to San Francisco.
In a statement to NBC News, Lumos Labs defended its products and said the settlement does not pertain to "the rigor of our research or the quality of the products." The company said it has made "strong contributions to the scientific community and will not change its focus: "We remain committed to moving the science of cognitive training forward and contributing meaningfully to the field's community and body of research."
Under the settlement with the FTC, Lumos Labs has to notify customers who signed up for an auto-renewal plan and provide them a way to cancel their subscription. The settlement requires the company and its co-founders to have "competent and reliable scientific evidence before making future claims about any benefits for real-world performance, age-related decline, or other health conditions."