One of the more absurd claims in consumer product history — the notion that a baby as young as three months old can be taught to read — appears, thankfully, to be history itself. Last week, the company behind “Your Baby Can Read” announced that it was ceasing operations, because it had become too costly to fight the litany of formal complaints against it. The company, led by a man named Robert Titzer with a PhD in “human performance,” widely advertised a $200 set of flash cards, books, and DVDs, promising that babies and toddlers could take advantage of a “small window of opportunity” to read fluently and gain confidence.
Hundreds of thousands of people bought in. Then came the backlash, including a “Today Show” investigation that debunked the pledge with the help of leading child development experts. The Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood also filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, charging that the company’s marketing claims were false.
The FTC inquiry won’t end with the company’s demise. Indeed, the agency can and should take action. The agency could seek a court injunction, civil penalties, or refunds for customers who have been harmed. At the very least, it should make a deal with Titzer that would bar him from making any similar claims in the future under a different corporate name. Strong action would draw attention and send an important message: As the “genius baby” industry continues to expand, consumers need to be suitably wary. But empty promises, aimed at credulous parents, shouldn’t be tolerated, either.