Natural Cycles, which has just been greenlit by the Food and Drug Administration to launch in the US, claims it can provide protection-free birth control by tracking a woman's menstrual cycle through her body temperature.
Using an algorithm developed by the company, the app then shows the user whether she is either on a fertile day or a non-fertile day, in which case it claims it is safe to have unprotected sex. The app costs $51.50 (R750) a year or £5.99 (R110) a month, and comes with a thermometer.
The ASA investigated a paid-for Natural Cycles ad on Facebook in July 2017, which claimed: "Natural Cycles is a highly accurate, certified, contraceptive app that adapts to every woman’s unique menstrual cycle. Sign up to get to know your body and prevent pregnancies naturally."
The ASA found that Natural Cycles had exaggerated the app's "typical-use" failure rate — i.e. how often it fails when someone doesn't use it 100% correctly, as is often the case with contraceptives.
Natural Cycles told the ASA that clinical trials showed it was 93% effective with typical use, but the ASA's investigation found that this figure was exaggerated, and a more realistic figure was 91.7%. It also found that Natural Cycles requires far more input from the user than other contraception methods, and that only 9.6% of inputted cycles in the app could be considered "perfect-use."
"We considered that in isolation, the claim 'clinically tested alternative to birth control methods' was unlikely to mislead. However, when presented alongside the accompanying claim 'Highly accurate contraceptive app', it further 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," the ruling concluded.
"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."
The ASA banned the ad from appearing on Facebook and warned Natural Cycles not to say that the app was a highly accurate method of contraception, or to exaggerate its efficacy in preventing pregnancies.
A Natural Cycles spokesperson told Business Insider that the ASA probe triggered an internal investigation and adverts now undergo a strict approval process.
"We respect the outcome of the investigation by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) into one Facebook advertisement, which ran for approximately 4 weeks in mid-2017. The investigation was initiated nearly 12 months ago and the advertisement was removed as soon as we were notified of the complaint," she added.
This is not the only time an investigation has called the efficacy of Natural Cycles as a contraceptive into question. The company is under investigation in Sweden after a hospital reported that 37 of 668 female patients who sought an abortion between September and December 2017 had been using the app.
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