Ads promoting Your Baby Can Read were nothing but fiction, says the Federal Trade Commission, citing a lack of scientific evidence backing up claims that children as young as nine months could be taught to read. The FTC today filed false and deceptive advertising charges against the program.
The FTC's case, part of its push to prohibit overhyped health and scientific claims, followed a number of lawsuits brought by advocacy groups and others against Your Baby Can LLC, which was forced to close its doors in July.
Two of the three defendants—Your Baby Can and Hugh Penton Jr., the company's president and CEO until March 2010—settled with the FTC for $185 million, equal to the firm's gross sales since January 2008. However, the financially strapped company will only pay $500,000 of the judgment, with the balance suspended as long as the financial information provided to the FTC is accurate. The FTC will continue to pursue Robert Titzer, the company's principal and product creator, in the U.S. District Court for the southern district of California.
According to the FTC's complaint, the company marketed the program on TV infomercials, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, and in TV ads on Lifetime, Discovery Kids, Disney DX, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. Consumers purchased the $200 program via toll-free number, the company's website, online at Amazon.com and BabiesRUs.com, and at retailers such as Walmart, Toys "R" Us and Kmart.
The settlement order also prohibits Penton and Your Baby Can from misrepresenting the benefits, performance or efficacy of any product or service for teaching reading or speech, or enhancing language ability, cognitive ability, school performance or brain development. They also are barred from misrepresenting that scientific evidence exists for such assertions.
"The Commission's action send a strong message to media marketers who falsely hype the educational benefits of their products and exploit parents' natural tendency to want the best for their children," said Dr. Susan Linn, the director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which filed an FTC complaint against Your Baby Can in April 2011. "We urge the producers of other screen media marketed for babies to take note of today's landmark decision."