The device’s blood oxygen sensor becomes less accurate the darker the user’s skin is, a US plaintiff claims
FILE PHOTO © Getty Images / Feline Lim
Apple profited at the expense of dark-skinned customers by charging a premium for an Apple Watch that knowingly incorporated a defective ‘blood oxygen sensor’ feature, a class action lawsuit filed last week in New York claims.
Plaintiff Alex Morales bought his own Apple Watch between 2020 and 2021 after Covid-19 made pulse oximeters, which use infrared light to estimate the amount of oxygen in the blood, a must-have for monitoring vital signs at home. According to the suit, he assumed the feature would work “without regard to skin tone,” as Apple disclosed no “biases and defects” on the label.
But pulse oximeters have been shown in scientific studies to produce inaccurate measurements for darker-complexioned patients, due to the melanin in their skin absorbing the infrared light from the device as if it was well-saturated blood. Public ignorance of this disparity arguably contributed to the disproportionate number of Covid-19 deaths in black and Hispanic Americans compared to whites, as dangerously-low oxygen levels would have gone undetected even in a medical setting.