A New York man has filed a lawsuit alleging that the Apple Watch is racially biased against darker skin tones because the device's oximeter, or blood oxygen sensor, was the product of pulse oximetry science, which the plaintiff claims is inherently racist.
According to ABC, the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on December 24 states that "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."
Alex Morales, the plaintiff who brought the suit, said he was totally aware of the oximeter when he bought the Apple device at some point in either 2020 or 2021, according to the New York Post. The Blood Oxygen App, which comes with the Apple Watch Series 6 and newer models, enables a user to measure their blood oxygen levels just by wearing the watch on their wrist.
In the lawsuit, Morales claims he knew the device "purported to measure blood oxygen levels and he believed it did this without regard to skin tone."
Apple's oximeter device operates by using light to hit a person's skin and then estimating how much light is absorbed by the red blood cells.
The lawsuit alleges that these machines were "significantly less accurate in measuring blood oxygen levels based on skin color." Further, the suit says that the Covid pandemic "confirmed the clinical significance of racial bias of pulse oximetry."
A Washington Post article from July claimed the technology was faulty because it did not provide "equitable" results and that its creators lacked "intentionality" of a racial sort when creating the technology.
Dr. Darien Sutton, an ABC News medical contributor, said, "How much light is absorbed tells you how much oxygen you have because red blood cells carry oxygen. The problem is that darker skin also absorbs light, so it can give you a falsely elevated reading."
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