The Apple Watch’s oximeter is allegedly biased against those with darker skin tones, according to Alex Morales, a New York citizen who filed a class-action lawsuit against Apple.
Pulse oximeter technology is less efficient at monitoring blood oxygen levels in people with darker skin. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed this vulnerability when doctors utilized the tools to check patients’ oxygen levels and pulse oximeters failed.
Whether Apple employs the same technology in its watches is not confirmed, though. The Blood Oxygen app, which is compatible with Apple Watch Series 6 and newer, “can monitor your blood’s oxygen level on-demand right from your wrist and give you information about your general health,” according to Apple.
According to the lawsuit, during the coronavirus outbreak, researchers examined patient records to confirm the racial bias in pulse oximetry. There have been allegations regarding these devices’ accuracy for measuring blood oxygen levels on darker skin tones for decades, with results varied from skin to skin.
Morales purchased an Apple Watch with the blood oxygen sensor feature believing the watch claimed to assess blood oxygen levels regardless of skin tone. He would not have purchased the watch or spent as much if he had known otherwise.
Ink, patterns, and saturation of some tattoos might obscure light from the sensor, making it challenging for the Blood Oxygen app to obtain a reading, according to the Apple website. The hue of a person’s skin is not mentioned, though.
The measures provided by blood oxygen apps are not meant for medical purposes, including self-diagnosis or professional medical advice. It is only intended for general wellness and fitness objectives, the Apple website reads.
The lawsuit accused Apple of violating various statutes, including New York state law and a federal multi-state class action legislation that prohibits misleading business practices.