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Apple accused of 'racial bias,' hit with class-action lawsuit over watch's blood oximeter

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

On Saturday, Apple was hit with a class-action lawsuit from a New York man who claimed the Apple Watch's blood oximeter has a "racial bias" because it does not work as effectively on people with darker skin tones, Fox Business reported.

The lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York on December 24, alleged that the watch's poor functioning on certain skin tones amounts to consumer fraud.

Apple Watches from Series 6 and newer are compatible with the Blood Oxygen app, which can "measure the oxygen level of your blood on-demand directly from your wrist, providing you with insights into your overall wellness," according to Apple.

Alex Morales filed the complaint after he claimed he purchased an Apple Watch between 2020 and 2021 but was unaware that it used skin color to measure blood oxygen levels.

"For decades, there have been reports that such devices were significantly less accurate in measuring blood oxygen levels based on skin color," the complaint stated. "The 'real world significance' of this bias lay unaddressed until the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic, which converged with a greater awareness of structural racism which exists in many aspects of society."

The complaint argued that researchers have previously concluded that using pulse oximetry on the wrist renders inaccurate blood oxygen measurements, with as much as 90% of the readings unusable.

"The conclusion was that 'reliance on pulse oximetry to triage patients and adjust supplemental oxygen levels may place Black patients at increased risk for hypoxemia,'" the lawsuit stated. "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."

Morales' complaint claimed that "false and misleading representations" allowed Apple to sell the watch for a "premium price."

According to the lawsuit, Morales "paid more for the Product than he would have had he known the representations and omissions were false and misleading, or would not have purchased it."

Apple's Blood Oxygen app notes that it is "only designed for general fitness and wellness purposes" and "not intended for medical use, including self-diagnosis or consultation with a doctor."

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Fox Business reported.

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