Smartphone users warned over deadly mushroom-hunting app

No fun: Mushroom identification app slammed for being potentially 'deadly'.iStock

Smartphone users who have downloaded an app called Mushroom that's used to identify different varieties of wild fungi could be putting their lives at risk, according to experts.

While foraging for fungi sounds like fun, it can be a serious game with many varieties being poisonous or inedible. To help mushroom hunters out the app, created by Nicholas Sheriff, lets users take pictures of what they've found then use its photographic artificial intelligence to name the variety.

Sheriff claims his intention is to help make the world of mycology (the study of fungi) clearer and educate those on the vast number of fungi, as it can be difficult to memorise every species. However, environmental scientists have blasted the app by saying that it's very easy to incorrectly identify mushrooms, including the edible ones from the poisonous ones.

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Mycologists, experienced foragers and scientists alike all panned the Mushroom app on Twitter with one saying it's "the most potentially deadly app I've ever seen" and "terrifying" how it could potentially hospitalise with misinformation.

Sheriff told Motherboard Vice that people falling ill from eating death cap mushrooms they thought were edible is becoming more common across Europe and the US, so he wanted to give people the tools to prevent harm. Fourteen people in northern California were reportedly poisoned by the common fungi recently, with two of those requiring liver transplants.

While the $7.99 app, which only appears to be available in the US Apple App store, is designed to help, even Sheriff admitted it didn't work perfectly as it's still in beta. This worrying information set alarm bells off across the scientific communities who are warning users away from the app.

Sheriff was quoted as saying the app will become more accurate as it grows and more images are uploaded to its database, but until that time it's advisable to not rely on Mushroom as a flawless method to identify any fungi you find.

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