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'Deceptive' phone-breathalyzer maker must refund $5.1 million

The Federal Trade Commission calls out the company for claiming its breathalyzer hardware and app could accurately tell people if they were sober enough to drive.

The Federal Trade Commission has ordered Breathometer to offer complete refunds to its customers.

Josh Miller/CNET

The b.s. meter was off the charts for the Breathometer.

The Federal Trade Commission has ordered the company behind the personal breathalyzer to cough up to $5.1 million in refunds for anyone who bought the device, which shot to national prominence after snagging investments in 2013 on reality show "Shark Tank."

The Breathometer, which sold for $49 when it debuted in 2014, allegedly worked through an attachment plugged into your phone's headphone jack. Consumers would open an app and breathe into the device. The Breathometer promised to tell people their blood-alcohol content level within an accuracy matching police breathalyzers.

The FTC disagreed. It found that the device was poorly tested and gave inaccurate results, telling people they were sober or clear to drive when they weren't.

"People relied on the defendant's products to decide whether it was safe to get behind the wheel," Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said Monday in a statement. "Overstating the accuracy of the devices was deceptive -- and dangerous."

Burlingame, California-based Breathometer Inc., which shut down production of its breathalyzer last year, did not admit to wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

When CNET tested it out two years ago, the Breathometer app gave a .05 blood-alcohol content result when it was clear our reviewer was beyond buzzed. CNET testers were also able to trick the machine by swishing around Irish whiskey and spitting it out. For that, the Breathometer told our tester he had a .20 BAC level.

The app has since been disabled, and Breathometer CEO Charles Yim is required to notify customers who bought the item and offer them a full refund as part of the settlement (PDF).

However, the company now offers a new product to check whether you have bad breath.

Breathometer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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