The perfect app for diehard sunbathers and die-soft hypochondriacs.
There are variations on how it works, but the gist is simple and user-friendly: Photograph a questionable patch of skin with your phone, then compare your stomach-turning protuberance to instances of actual cancer. Free versions of the app, such as the University of Michigan's UMSkinCheck, might allow you to check your skinful inconsistencies against a catalog of videos and literature and perform a risk calculation. Less wallet-friendly versions like Doctor Mole HD (because even skin cancer's better in HD) analyze your exterior according to some visual algorithm and provide an automatic assessment, no critical thinking required. Either way, it's armchair oncology at its finest.
So What's the Problem?
Fearing that these apps are little more than high-tech quacksalvers, researchers decided to test the ability of four skin cancer apps to identify malignancy across 188 images of skin lesions. And to the surprise of pretty much no one, they discovered that the accuracy varied dramatically depending on which program was used.
The worst app had a measly 6.8 percent success rate, meaning you'd be much better off flipping a coin a bunch of times, or perhaps checking the horoscope for Cancer. The best performer of the bunch, at a stunning 98.1 percent accuracy, basically cheated: Rather than relying on some brilliant algorithm, the app sent images to a group of certified dermatologists who charge a fee for their services. The remaining two apps were on par with the abilities of untrained family doctors, which sounds somewhat comforting until you consider that it equates to a 30 percent error rate.
A doctor would then refer you to a specialist. The app checks you into Myrtle Beach and tweets "#SuckItSun."
Ultimately, there's a good chance people will end up delaying or totally dismissing prudent doctor visits because their fancy Magic 8 Ball app told them they were healthy. And while it's true that such apps are quick to serve up disclaimers warning consumers that apps can't replace doctors, it's pretty hard to swallow the idea that those who would actually pay for a program that claims to spot cancer would also readily dismiss its advice as unreliable. Just remember: Unless you're paying a team of doctors to look at the scabs on your junk, you're basically traversing a minefield -- only instead of shrapnel, these mines pelt you with cancer.
Andrew occasionally writes and makes ska-flavored noise that you can download. Sam is currently currying the favor of powerful and beautiful people on Twitter and Facebook.
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