Alcohol-related smartphone apps wildly inaccurate

Burnet Institute

09 September, 2013

By Lucie van den Berg, The Herald Sun

A new Victorian study analysing alcohol-related smartphone apps found many alcohol apps that measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC) were flawed and inaccurate.

The Burnet Institute’s Centre for Population Health research reviewed more than 380 of the most popular alcohol apps on Apple and Android.

The vast majority lacked scientific legitimacy, with names such as Let’s Get Wasted and Drink Thin.

The majority were entertainment apps (50 per cent), which clearly encouraged alcohol consumption, followed by BAC apps.

Lead researcher Dr Megan Lim said her research was the first to critically evaluate BAC apps, which ask users to enter data or blow on their phone to find out their intoxication level.

Dr Lim said they tested about 100 apps by entering data from participants who had been breathalysed.

In one case a male, 18, had consumed five drinks of white spirits and blown a BAC of 0.03.

“But the output we got from the apps ranged from 0.0001, which is practically nothing, to 0.91, which is way beyond a lethal dose of alcohol,” Dr Lim said.

“The variability in the apps was ridiculous.”

Dr Lim said even entering identical data in the same app could yield different results.

She said the concept of calculating BAC gave a reasonable estimate of intoxication, but many apps did not ask for enough information, such as age, weight or time spent drinking.

“There were even several that were actually breathalysers where you are supposed to blow on your phone and it gives you a reading of your BAC, which obviously does not work.”

Dr Lim said testing BAC apps tended to overestimate intoxication levels, but she would be concerned if people were using the apps to determine their ability to drive.

Her study said it was worrying that many apps gave a specific time at which users could resume driving but did not differentiate between countries and their varying alcohol limits.

More than half of the reviewed apps in the paper, published in Journal of Medical Internet Research, had no warning that they may not be valid or reliable.

Fortunately, interviews with young people showed most doubted the apps.

“They were sceptical about how accurate the results would be, but I don’t think many of them realised that many of the apps were not even trying to be accurate,” Dr Lim said.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Associate Professor Megan SC Lim

Deputy Program Director, Disease Elimination; Head, Young People’s Health




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