Legal Case: Fitbit vs The World

Links to my review of the charge

Tuesday Jan 5th sees a lawsuit filed against fitbit (I’ve not read the filing in detail).

3 people (plaintiffs) claim that the Charge HR and Surge products DO NOT and CANNOT record optical HR properly.

First off. I’m not lawyer. In fact I was rubbish at law classes at uni.

The claim of not being able to record optical HR properly is patently true in Fitbit’s case.

Fitbit might well argue it is not a medical-grade product. But it simply is not an ‘accurate’ product.

However I would counter-argue in that Fitbit products are MOST certainly marketed as health products as well as fitness products, although I would admit they are not marketed as medical-grade products, like Polar’s chest straps have the reputation for.

I would also assert that, at a price tag of well over £100 the purchaser has reasonable cause to believe that the product will be reasonably accurate. People that I have spoken to would also believe that assertion.

‘Reasonable’ is a legal term with a specific meaning.

Indeed, in their initial public rebuttal, Fitbit state “Fitbit trackers are designed to provide meaningful data to our users to help them reach their *health* and fitness goals, and are not intended to be scientific or medical devices”.

What if my health goal is not to exceed 160bpm!

The plaintiffs argue, effectively, MASSIVELY inaccurate reading at times (up to 75bpm) and often underreporting by 25bpm. Those levels of inaccuracy, if true, are unacceptable for the uses intended. It would not surprise me that those levels of inaccuracy were found from time to time in some optical HR products.

One of the defendants compared the readings to a ‘proper’ HRM to find the differences. Which begs the question why that person then went on to use a device s/he knew to be inaccurate. No doubt some story will be made that they had used the product for a while before comparing to another ‘proper’ product.

Let’s not forget that Fitbit records and presents such data back to users VERY comprehensively in their app.

From what I know of the law there is an underlying principle of HARM. Where was the actual harm in these cases? These people appear to have suffered no ill effects apart from a ‘bit of worry’.

One of the plaintiffs is Kate McLellan (PhD rehabilitation scientist). I would expect someone with her professional background should know better…Indeed she seems to either own or have the use of a cardio vascular exercise bike. Probably a keen exerciser then….?!

Another plaintiff bases his claim on the fact that his doctor told him not to exceed 160bpm. 160bpm!!! what is he doing? I could run a marathon reasonably quickly at a lower HR than that (sub 4 hrs probably?). Incidentally I had a similar issue where I was told not to exceed a similar level of exertion…and I didn’t, on the whole. I sure as heck didn’t rely on an optical HRM to tell me what my heartbeat was as:

  • a) I can TELL when it gets high. I KNOW when it’s that high; and
  • b) I know they are a bit rubbish sometimes. Then again, perhaps like Kate McLellan PhD, I should know better (in fact I do know better, that’s why I didn’t use one).

If there is a specific risk of heart attack at higher heart rates then doctors would often prescribe heart rate limiting drugs like beta blockers. No doubt there are circumstances when they would not. (Probably the circumstances in this case!)

Fitbit should make more accurate health products for the prices they are selling their products at. They should have better and more clearly labelled the uses their product is suitable for. The plaintiffs probably have a case of some sorts but I would imagine Fitbit will find a way of wangling out of it.

Verdict: Both sides seems to be on shaky grounds to some degree. Small out of court settlement?

BUT the share price would ONLY have fallen if the market took the view that there was merit in the casesthe share price also fell, in part, because of the Blaze release.

What do YOU think? Fancy suing Fitbit? Jump on that bandwagon while you can 🙂 I won’t be doing it! Unless no-one has been harmed Fitbit should get a little slap on the wrist and told to market more carefully in the future. They don’t deserve multi-million pound awards against them for this, in my opinion.



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2 thoughts on “Legal Case: Fitbit vs The World

  1. I think it’s time to acknowledge optical heart rate monitors are rubbish. except the scorche due to arm placement.

    i tested the garmin 235 and it’s dangerous. when im running intervals in zone 4 and it says im still in zone 2 that’s craziness.

    1. yes, i think this case makes us think about the whole technology.

      whilst I don’t fully agree with what you say; what you say probably does offer a good plece to start the debate from.

      I would counter what you say with, for example: they have some utility for indicative sports purposes.

      For me they have generally been OK enough (eg Epson) for MOST (but not all) sports usage. Some have NOT been OK of course. But the area of caution that comes in MUST be that the accuracy (and hence usefulness) varies from person to person.

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