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Advert for contraceptive app banned

Claim that Natural Cycles app is as effective as long-term contraceptive options is misleading

Ingrid Torjesen

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

A Facebook advert for a contraception app has been banned for being misleading by the advertising watchdog.

The Natural Cycles app claimed to be a “highly accurate” alternative birth control method, but the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that it was not as effective as some long-term medical contraceptives such as the coil, injections or implants.

To use the app, women are required to input their body temperature every day, together with other personal information, for example, the date of their periods and when they have sex. The software then creates a personal algorithm to identify those days of the month when it should be safe to have sex without protection and not get pregnant.

The watchdog received three complaints challenging the Facebook advert’s claim that Natural Cycles is a “highly accurate” and “clinically tested alternative to birth control methods”.

While the app had a perfect-use failure rate of 1.0, which meant that 10 out of 1000 women who used the app for one year became pregnant, the typical-use failure rate was 6.8, because women did not always input all the required information or follow the advice fully, which meant that in total 68 women out of 1000 got pregnant during one year.

“Other methods such as barrier methods (e.g. condoms) or oral contraceptives would potentially show a substantial difference between perfect-use and typical-use, whereas long acting reversible contraceptive methods such as IUD’s, implants and injectables, which were highly reliable, and required little user input, would not show much difference between perfect-use and typical-use,” the ASA said.

“Whilst we considered the evidence demonstrated the app could be effective as a method of birth control, we considered that it was misleading to describe it as 'highly accurate'.”

While in isolation the claim “clinically tested alternative to birth control methods”' was unlikely to mislead, when presented alongside the accompanying claim “highly accurate contraceptive app” it contributed to the impression that the app was a precise and reliable method of preventing pregnancies which could be used in place of other established birth control methods, including those which were highly reliable in preventing unwanted pregnancies, the ASA added.

“Because the evidence did not demonstrate that in typical-use it was 'highly accurate' and because it was significantly less effective than the most reliable birth control methods, we considered that in the context of the ad the claim was likely to mislead.”

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