Apple Watch’s Health Feature Has a “Racial Bias” According to the Lawsuit

Apple Watch's Health Feature

A class action complaint was filed against Apple in the Southern District of New York, alleging that the Apple Watch’s blood oximeter displays a “racial bias” towards customers with darker skin tones. Your blood’s oxygen saturation is what the oximeter is checking for. Adults and children alike, whose oxygen saturation levels go outside the usual range of 95% to 100%, are regarded to have a health problem.

It has been alleged in a lawsuit that the Apple Watch’s blood-oxygen-monitoring meter discriminates on the basis of race.

Since the release of the Apple Watch Series 6 in 2020, wearers have had access to an oxygen saturation indicator. “monitor your oxygen level in your blood on demand directly from your wrist, bringing you insights into your overall wellness,” Apple says of the Apple Watch 6 and later versions.

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According to the New York Post, a lead plaintiff is a man named Alex Morales from New York who bought his Apple Watch between the years 2020 and 2021 but didn’t provide the model number. According to the lawsuit, Morales had knowledge that the gadget “purported to detect blood oxygen levels and he believed it did this without respect to skin tone which was significant to him based on his skin tone.”

The lawsuit continues, saying that Morales “anticipated the product would not integrate biases and flaws of pulse oximetry with respect to persons of darker skin tone.” According to the complaint, the “premium price of approximately no less than $400, minus tax and sales, is charged for the Product as a direct result of the false and misleading statements.”

Morales suggests making it a class action lawsuit for all anyone in New York who bought an Apple Watch under the statute of limitations. He also plans on expanding the list to include residents of the states of North Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Alaska, Iowa, Mississippi, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Utah who are qualified to purchase an Apple Watch.

A doctor named Richard Levitan (who worked at an emergency room in Bellvue, New York) discovered during the pandemic that oxygen saturation levels may indicate whether or not a patient had COVID. For other patients, Dr. Levitan saw oxygen saturation values as low as 50% despite the absence of any outward signs of distress. As a result of COVID, many of these patients suffered from “silent hypoxia” and were in grave danger despite their lack of awareness. If your score is below 80%, you could be in danger of developing serious brain or heart conditions.

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Research undertaken during the epidemic was cited in the complaint as having “proved the clinical significance of racial bias of pulse oximetry.” Legal documents cited patient records stating, “For decades, there have been reports that such devices were much less reliable in monitoring blood oxygen levels based on skin color.” It was also said in the filing that “the real world relevance’ of this bias remained untouched until the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic, which coincided with a greater understanding of structural racism which exists in many parts of society.”

The Apple Watch’s blood oximeter is “not designed for medical usage,” according to the company.

Despite the fact that Apple did not immediately react to a request for comment on Monday, the firm has never promoted the blood oximeter included in the Apple Watch as being of medical quality. The blood oximeter on Apple Watch is “only designed for general fitness and well-being purposes,” according to Apple. According to the developers, “Blood Oxygen app measures are not intended for medical use, including self-diagnosis or contact with a doctor.”

Apple Watch's Health Feature
Apple Watch’s Health Feature

According to the lawsuit, “The conclusion was that reliance on pulse oximetry to triage patients and modify supplemental oxygen levels may place Black patients at heightened risk for hypoxemia. White patients are more likely to receive care than patients of color when both have oxygen deficiency because doctors recommend treatment based on blood oxygen levels.

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While classic fingertip pulse oximeters may detect blood oxygen levels and heart rate, wrist-worn devices like the (Apple Watch) only monitor heart rate since wrist-based blood oxygen measures are thought to be incorrect, according to the affidavit given to the court. When applied to wrist measures, algorithms developed for fingertip sense can result in more than 90% of results being useless.

Morales is requesting that the court appoint him as the class representatives’ legal advocate. In addition to compensatory, punitive, and interest damages; costs and expenses (including reasonable attorney and expert fees); and such other and further remedies as the Court deems just and proper, he asks for all of the following.

Sensors able to measure blood oxygen levels on a wrist-worn fitness tracker or smartwatch are becoming increasingly common. The Apple Watch and the much cheaper (at $45) Xiaomi Smart Band 7 will also provide a readout, but neither is designed for serious medical monitoring.

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