The FTC recently cracked down on Breathometer, Inc., the maker of an app-supported smartphone breathalyzer, for false and deceptive advertising.
The advertised purpose of the product is to keep people safe—to let someone know when he/she has had too many to drive, and provide an estimate on when sobriety will return. The device, which connects to an app on a smartphone, allows the user to blow into it and receive a blood-alcohol content reading on their phone. The accuracy of the reading, however, is in dispute – and it appears the advertisements may have overstated the accuracy of the BAC reading.
In its advertising, Breathometer touted “FDA registered, Law enforcement grade accuracy” and “‘police grade’ precision.” The advertising went on to claim that the accuracy was proven by “government-lab grade testing.” According to the FTC’s complaint, these claims were not supported, or outright false. The FTC alleged that the product was not adequately tested for accuracy and that the company was aware that the device regularly understated users’ BAC – in other words, informing drunk people that they were sober to drive.
Now a settlement with the FTC has imposed strict restrictions on the conduct of the company and its founder going forward. The company and its founder are prohibited from making claims regarding the accuracy of the product without the support of specifically outlined testing demonstrating it “meets the accuracy specifications set for evidential breath alcohol testers that have been approved by the Department of Transportation.” In fact, without such testing support, the company cannot advertise that the product detects BAC at all, and is prohibited from “re-enabling the Breathometer app’s breathalyzer functions” which were previously shut down.
In addition, the company must give a full refund to everyone who bought the product – wiping out approximately $5.1 million in revenues. The company is required to specifically notify its customers by email of their right to a refund, and post refund information on its website.