The Apple Watch’s Blood Oxygen Feature Faces Racial Bias Accusationsby@valentineenedah
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The Apple Watch’s Blood Oxygen Feature Faces Racial Bias Accusations

by Valentine EnedahFebruary 19th, 2023
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A group of people from New York who use Apple products, filed a lawsuit with claims that the blood oxygen feature on the Apple Watch doesn’t work correctly for people with darker skin. Medical experts have advised that the watch should not be considered a medical device but rather just a cool tool.
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The Apple Watch has been chastised for being racially biased. This is just one example of a larger problem in the technology industry where artificial intelligence models are racist and sexist, usually due to the training data.

A group of people from New York who use Apple products, filed a lawsuit with claims that the blood oxygen feature on the Apple Watch doesn’t work correctly for people with darker skin.

In this slogging thread, our community discussed the Apple Watch's blood oxygen feature, its inaccuracies in measuring black people and other alternative fitness watches that people can buy.

This Slogging thread by Valentine Enedah, Sara Pinto, Mónica Freitas and Marco Sullivan occurred in slogging's official #random channel, and has been edited for readability.

Valentine EnedahJan 3, 2023, 10:15 AM

Apple Watch’s Blood Oxygen Feature Faces Racial Bias Accusations

Valentine EnedahJan 3, 2023, 10:24 AM
A pulse oximeter is a medical tool used to check how much oxygen is in a person's blood. It does this by shining a light through the skin and measuring the amount of light that passes through. This information is then used to calculate the percentage of oxygen in the blood.

Using a pulse oximeter to measure oxygen levels has been seen as an unreliable method unless its sensors are adjusted properly for different skin tones. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this issue gained attention from the public and scientific community due to its importance in accurately measuring the pulse and oxygen levels of people that contracted the virus.
Valentine EnedahJan 3, 2023, 10:57 AM

Apple added the blood oxygen feature to its watch in 2020 and it became a successful product. Apple wanted to use the feature to study the flu and COVID-19 in partnership with the Seattle Flu Study and two medical schools.

Medical experts have advised that the Apple Watch should not be considered a medical device but rather just a cool tool. The large amount of information provided by the watch without proper medical explanation may not be useful for either the user or their doctor. Well, this is not great news considering the fact that it raised billions of dollars.
What do you think?

Sara PintoJan 4, 2023, 4:02 PM

Oh, wow. We all know how AI can become biased, but I never thought that blood oxygen measurements could be affected by it. As Apple released any statement about this yet? Valentine Enedah

Sara PintoJan 4, 2023, 4:11 PM

Speaking to Mashable that year, medical experts warned users that the watch was simply a cool tool and not a medical device, expressing concern that the sheer amount of random data which was offered with little medical interpretation wouldn't be helpful for either user or doctor.

This is very true. Apple is trying to sell these tools by saying how helpful they are, but I think we have to be selective. Whether it is the watch measurements or the fertility feature, the truth is that we can't take its word for it. As you mentioned above, the measurements can be wrong and to interpret this information as facts, is incorrect

Valentine EnedahJan 4, 2023, 8:58 PM

Sara Pinto Apple has not released any statement with regard to the blood oxygen measurements. In summary, the feature is just for vibes cause I don't see a need for a product that is biased.
Do you think you would love to have this feature on your watch cause sincerely if I needed to know these parameters about myself, I would go to a clinic.

Sara PintoJan 5, 2023, 11:51 AM

I completely agree, Valentine Enedah. I wouldn't trust it to make health related decisions. If it was accurate, it could be interesting to observe the results, but other than that, I wouldn't use it. Overall, I barely use the health apps on my phone. What about you?

Valentine EnedahJan 5, 2023, 2:55 PM

Sara Pinto Same here!
The only feature I use on my phone is the one that helps me know the total number of steps I made every day.

Mónica FreitasJan 5, 2023, 4:19 PM

Great points, Sara Pinto
I think you make great points. I think that we can't take these commercial tools as actual medical equipment. Apple will always advertise the way it guarantees more income for them. So, of course, they'll tell us their gadget is the best or ultimate health tracker. But we, as consumers, need to do our research.
Now, on the point of racism, I had no idea that was how these health trackers worked. I'm impressed apple never even considered the skin color variation in their prototype phase. Is this lack of professionalism or purposeful neglect?

🔥 2
Valentine EnedahJan 6, 2023, 9:48 AM

Mónica Freitas To be honest, I would try to be more careful with my words but I would say it might be both cause why would you release a product that you claim to work for different races and it is still biased.
That's not professional!

Mónica FreitasJan 9, 2023, 6:13 PM

Valentine Enedah could this describe Apple as a company? Does it actually show their values? Food for thought

Valentine EnedahJan 9, 2023, 11:43 PM

Mónica Freitas Well, Apple is known for it's top notch delivery.
These are their current values as Tim Cook became the CEO.

  • We believe that we’re on the face of the Earth to make great products.
  • We believe in the simple, not the complex.
  • We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products we make.
  • We participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.
  • We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us.
  • We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot.
  • We don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change.
Mónica FreitasJan 13, 2023, 2:40 PM

We don’t settle for anything less than excellence - it seems like they dropped the ball a bit on this one ahahah

:rolling_on_the_floor_laughing: 1
Valentine EnedahJan 13, 2023, 5:34 PM

Mónica Freitas Actually, it was a big drop.

😂 1
Marco SullivanJan 16, 2023, 8:07 AM

Valentine Enedah This is really sad but can you recommend other alternative health centric watches, people could use?

Valentine EnedahJan 17, 2023, 5:25 AM

Marco Sullivan Yes, there are some cool fitness trackers.

  1. Fitbit Inspire 3
Valentine EnedahJan 17, 2023, 5:26 AM

2. Xiaomi Mi Band 7

Valentine EnedahJan 17, 2023, 5:27 AM

3. Huawei Band 4 Pro

Valentine EnedahJan 17, 2023, 5:27 AM

4. Withings Move

Valentine EnedahJan 17, 2023, 5:28 AM

5. Amaz Fit Bit Pro

Valentine EnedahJan 17, 2023, 5:29 AM

Marco Sullivan These are my top 5 health fitness trackers.

Marco SullivanJan 17, 2023, 2:26 PM

Valentine Enedah These are so cool!!

Mónica FreitasJan 17, 2023, 8:02 PM

I have the Xiaomi Mi Band 7! It's cool and simple - straightforward to the needs you actually have while using it. Plus it's super cheap. Would definitely recommend.

🔥 1
Valentine EnedahJan 18, 2023, 2:22 AM

Mónica Freitas Awesome! Mi Products are actually really cool. I hope to get one soon.