Apple Faces Lawsuit Over 'Racially-Biased' Feature in Apple Watch That's Less Accurate for Dark-Skinned People

Apple is being sued for the blood oxygen sensor in its Apple Watch that is allegedly racially biased against people with darker skin.

The class action lawsuit states that the device is significantly less accurate when worn by a person with a darker skin tone. "Reliance on pulse oximetry to triage patients and adjust supplemental oxygen levels may place Black patients at increased risk of hypoxemia," it said.

"Since health care recommendations are based on readings of their blood oxygen levels, white patients are more able to obtain care than those with darker skin when faced with equally low blood oxygenation."

A New Yorker, Alex Morales, filed the lawsuit. He said he bought an Apple Watch between 2020 and 2021, unaware that the device purported to measure blood oxygen levels. He believes it did this without regard to skin tone.

Fraud Allegations

Moreover, the iPhone maker is accused of breaching express warranty, fraud and unjust enrichment – claiming violations of New York General Business Law and State Consumer Fraud Acts.

Apple Watch

The lawsuit states that during the COVID-19 pandemic researchers confirmed the clinical significance of racial bias of pulse oximetry using patients' records. It highlighted that for decades, there have been reports that such devices were significantly less accurate in measuring blood oxygen levels based on skin colour. The lawsuit outlined that the latest version of Apple Watch costs $400 - $800, which is a premium price based on features such as "Blood Oxygen app".

As such, Apple is alleged to have misrepresented or omitted the attributes and qualities of Apple Watch. The device did not incorporate biases and defects of pulse oximetry with respect to persons of darker skin tone. The lawsuit called for a jury trial.

No Comments from Apple

While the company has not commented on this lawsuit, it had published a study – actually a white paper – in October 2022 that discussed skin tone and the blood oxygen app. It said Apple had tested the app on many hundreds of participants from the age group 19 to 40 and was evenly divided by biological sex and a wide range of skin tones. The white paper stated that subject pools was diverse to ensure that the sensor platform can accommodate the full range of users and maintain accuracy.

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