The US Federal Trade Commission took action against MelApp, an app that says it can help diagnose or assess melanoma risks in users, barring it from making “deceptive or unsupported claims”.

The company behind it, Health Discovery Corporation, was fined $17,963. It is now prohibited from claiming any device detects or diagnoses melanoma or its risk factors, or increases users’ chances of early detection, unless the representation is not misleading and is supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence, according to a statement by the FTC.

The app asks users to submit photographs of moles they may be worried about, along with other information, and claims it can calculate whether the mole is of low, medium or high risk.

Back in 2011 when it was launched, the company said the app was “designed to help users learn about melanoma and identify areas on their skin which may need attention from a physician specialising in the diagnosis of melanoma. MelApp can assist in the early detection of melanoma with the goal of ultimately saving lives.”

It further stated that the app used “patent protected, highly sophisticated, state-of-the-art mathematical algorithms and image based pattern recognition technology to analyse the uploaded image”.

The FTC said that the Health Discovery Corporation “deceptively claimed the app accurately analysed melanoma risk and could assess such risk in early stages, and that its accuracy was scientifically proven.”

In February, the FTC challenged marketers for claiming their mobile apps could detect symptoms of melanoma.

At the time, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, had said that “truth in advertising laws apply in the mobile marketplace. App developers and marketers must have scientific evidence to support any health or disease claims that they make for their apps”.

Back in 2013, a survey by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center had expressed concern about smartphone apps that give an assessment of whether a skin lesion is benign or malignant because patients may substitute such analysis, whose accuracy it questions, for visiting a dermatologist.