Lumos Labs, the makers of brain games Luminosity, was fined two million dollars by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive marketing. In the filing, they brought issues to the forefront regarding claims that games and apps that are designed as learning tools actually work to improve learning, IQ, or cognition.
If a company is saying in their marketing that games or apps have a scientifically proven effect on learning or cognition, that statement has to be backed by science that is valid. “Scientifically proven” has to be by currently valid methods of science.
Anecdotal data collection–having people give their experience with a program–is considered to be science, but in a supporting role. Anecdotal data can support other science. Alone it does not have enough scientific validity to support a marketing claim that a product works. Of particular concern is anecdotal data, also known as customer testimonials, that are solicited in such a way that the veracity of the claim is questioned.
Soliciting customer testimonials with the opportunity to win money or prizes means that the information being gathered has a high likelihood of being skewed. It cannot be considered valid scientifically when something to gain is offered in exchange for making the claim. These testimonials or other forms of endorsement can be used to support marketing, but disclosure is required if the endorsement or testimonial was paid for or otherwise compensated.
While learning games have a great potential and a large market, makers must use caution in their claims about how the games work and what they can do. Valid science takes time and is expensive, but marketing cannot make claims about a product unless the science backs them up.