Calorie Counting Controversy: Indiegogo and Healbe defend against fraud allegations

We previously reported on the questions surrounding Moscow-based company Healbe’s Indiegogo campaign for its GoBe activity tracker. The crowdfunding venture, which recently breached the $1 million mark in spite of negative media scrutiny, has prompted both Healbe and Indiegogo to answer allegations of fraud and negligence. The wearable device, which claims to measure calories through your skin and track your glucose in a non-invasive manner, has been dismissed as a scam in some circles. Indiegogo and Healbe are answering dissenting voices and ensuring backers that everything’s above board. 

The campaign has amplified a debate over the role of crowdfunding when it comes to propping up new ventures. Some see crowdfunding as a sort of advance order Amazon for placing orders on cool things before they’re available to the mass market. Others see crowdfunding as a way of helping new businesses that otherwise wouldn’t get picked up by venture capitalists, and getting a small token in return.

It is like Google searching algorithm – everybody knows that it exists, but Google tells nobody details about it, or like the Coca-Cola formula.

“Regarding Healbe and the broader discussion about our approach, we see this as two separate topics: the issue of a campaigner who intends to deceive and the issue of the feasibility or deliverability of the campaign,” Indiegogo CEO Slava Rubin told Digital Trends. “To date, the Healbe team has been responsive and cooperative with our inquiries. Their campaign continues to follow our trust guidelines and they have voluntarily offered refunds upon request.”         

When we first reached out to Healbe, representatives told us that the criticism they received from the likes of Dr. David Ahn, was based on incomplete information. “This article was written before we updated information about the technology we used. This means it is not based on full information about the technology we use.” 

We asked a medical expert to assess the new information released by Healbe. Similar to previous analyses, the technology was met with skepticism.

“As a clinician, I would find it difficult to recommend this technology to patients without further information demonstrating scientifically  rigorous outcome findings,” Dr. Amber Featherstone, a medical director for Doctors of the World with a master’s degree in public health from Columbia University, told Digital Trends. Aside from disputing the claim of Healbe expert Dr. Vladimir Leonidovich Emmanuel that the GoBe’s accuracy rate of 15-20 percent for glucose calculation is good enough for day-to-day applications, she also questioned the lack of peer reviewed journals for the project.       

Assessments such as Dr. Featherstone’s are just what Healbe Managing Director George Mikaberydze is trying to avoid.

“I hope that you understand that some information about the technology could remain confidential,” Mikaberydze told Digital Trends. “It is like Google searching algorithm – everybody knows that it exists, but Google tells nobody details about it, or like the Coca-Cola formula. What we would like to avoid is that medical experts would make conclusions based only on some part of the technology we use, because in this case it could lead to wrong conclusions.” 

If Healbe really is holding on to this kind of groundbreaking technology, it’s caught between a rock and hard place. It must provide enough information to calm down panicking funders, but also keep things vague enough so competitors can’t sniff out clues. If this is outright fraud, it may call into question the credibility of not just Indiegogo, but crowdfunding as a whole. If you want to evaluate the strength of HealBe’s claims for yourself, you can check out the Indiegogo page here.

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