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Apple Watch Blood Oxygen Measurement: The Apple Watch, a popular wearable tech product, is facing allegations of racial bias in its blood oxygen measurement feature. A class action lawsuit filed on behalf of New York residents and Apple users claims that the device’s blood oxygen measurement does not accurately account for different skin tones, leading to inaccurate readings for users with darker skin. This lawsuit sheds light on a broader issue in the tech industry, highlighting the problem of racial bias and insensitivity in artificial intelligence and its practices.
Apple Watch Blood Oxygen Measurement: New feature
The blood oxygen measurement feature, known as an oximeter or pulse oximeter, estimates blood oxygen saturation levels by shining light through the wearer’s skin and analyzing the light that passes through. However, this method has long been recognized as insufficient, particularly without adjustments for varying skin tones. Concerns about racial bias in pulse oximeters gained attention during the COVID-19 pandemic when accurate monitoring of pulse and oxygen levels became crucial.
The Lawsuit Argument:
The lawsuit argues that this built-in racial bias can place black patients at increased risk for inadequate oxygen monitoring, potentially impacting their health. Apple introduced the blood oxygen measurement feature in its Apple Watch Series 6 in 2020, coinciding with a surge in pulse oximeter purchases due to the pandemic. The Apple Watch, priced between $400 and $800, has been marketed as a health monitoring device with unique features like the blood oxygen tool. The lawsuit claims that the sale of these watches constitutes consumer fraud because the feature allegedly does not work for every user.
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Apple Health Tools
When Apple introduced the oximeter, it also planned to use the data for a study on COVID-19 and influenza detection. While Apple’s health tools have been appealing to users seeking comprehensive wellness monitoring, they have not been without criticism. Medical experts have cautioned that these tools are not medical devices, and privacy concerns have arisen, such as with the fertility tracking feature introduced in 2022.
Beyond the consumer perspective, this case highlights a broader issue of racial bias in industries like medicine and data-driven algorithms. It calls attention to how products and entire industries are often designed with limited consideration for diversity, potentially leading to life-threatening consequences.
Apple has 21 days to respond to the class-action lawsuit.