Noom is a subscription-based wellness service that touts itself as a more ethical alternative to traditional diet apps. So it’s somewhat surprising that the app would be accused of lifting a fitness instructor’s photo without her consent to use in its Facebook ads.
Candice Rivers, a fitness instructor who goes by Candace Harmony on Instagram, filed suit against the company last December for allegedly using a promotional photo of herself for a Facebook ad. In the ad, according to court documents, Noom featured a photo of Rivers lifting weights with the caption “I was pushing a size 16, now a year later I’m around a size 10.” “Noom’s Secret? Brainpower, Not Willpower,” the headline of the post reads.
In a conversation with Rolling Stone, Greg Harp, an attorney in Birmingham, Alabama who is representing Rivers, says that Rivers had not posted the photo on Facebook, nor had she posted it on her own website. “We’re at a loss as to how Noom acquired the photograph,” he says. Harp also alleges that Noom falsely attributed the “size 16, size 10” quote to Rivers, inadvertently suggesting she had used the app to lose weight, which she had not. “She had a number of people reach out to say, ‘I saw the ad on Facebook, if Noom is good enough for you it’s good enough for me,’” he says.
When Rivers requested that Noom take the ad down, Harp says, the company did so immediately. Nonetheless, Rivers is suing Noom under Alabama’s right to privacy act, alleging that the company “did, knowingly and willfully attribute false and deceptive quotes to [the plaintiff]” and that Noom “did recognize profits from the unauthorized use of [plaintiff’s] identity.” Such an act, they are arguing, violates Facebook ad policies, which dictates that “ads must not contain content that infringes upon or violates the rights of any third party, including copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity, or other personal or proprietary right.”
“For a person like my client who has built her company from the ground up and this is her principal means of income and her life’s work at this point, it’s extremely significant someone would say, ‘We’ll use you to market our products and services without your permission and in doing so attribute false quotes to you,’” Harp says. Noom did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Founded in 2008, Noom launched its app in 2016 and has garnered $400 million in revenue and nearly 50 million users worldwide, as well as high-profile investors such as Serena Williams, Sequoia Capitol, and Samsung Ventures. It has captured market share primarily by positioning itself as a healthier, more ethical alternative to weight loss apps, even though it relies on calorie-counting and requests users weigh themselves daily in a similar way to traditional diet apps. (“Noom uses the latest in proven behavioral science to empower people to take control of their health for good,” reads their promotional material.) Noom has also faced criticisms for encouraging disordered eating, though it discourages users who download the app from using it if they have an “active diagnosis” of an eating disorder.
Rivers’ suit is not the first time Noom has faced legal action. In 2020, the company was hit with a class action lawsuit for allegedly ensnaring users into free trial periods that were difficult for them to cancel, resulting in them racking up onerous non-refundable fees. Last August, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied Noom’s request for a dismissal, allowing the nearly $100 million lawsuit to proceed.