Class action lawsuit claims Fitbit's heart rate monitoring isn't accurate enough

Posted:
in General Discussion
A new class action lawsuit is accusing Fitbit of misleading shoppers about the heart rate sensors in two of its flagship fitness trackers, the Charge HR and the Surge.




The case was brought by customers in California, Colorado, and Wisconsin, according to The Verge. An official complaint states that the devices' heart rate sensors are inaccurate by a "significant margin," especially during serious exercise.

One plaintiff was said to have bought a Charge HR specifically to monitor her heart during exercise, but found it didn't work well. Fitbit allegedly refused a refund after she complained.

In a statement Fitbit said that it "strongly disagrees" with the lawsuit, claiming that its technology provides "provides better overall heart rate tracking than cardio machines at the gym" since it operates round-the-clock and not just during exercise. It side-stepped the actual accuracy issue, noting that its trackers "are not intended to be scientific or medical devices."

As a rule, wrist-based optical heart rate sensors -- including the one on the Apple Watch -- are not as accurate as alternatives like chest straps. They can potentially be disrupted by a number of factors, such as a loose fit or even darker skin tones.

In 2014 a lawsuit accused Fitbit of misleading advertising for its Force fitness tracker, since a number of owners complained about developing rashes. The Force was pulled and replaced with the Charge, to which the Charge HR is an upgraded sibling.

The plaintiffs are asking the court for injunctive relief, as well as damage payments to compensate dissatisfied customers.

Just this Tuesday Fitbit unveiled the Blaze, its first device with a color touchscreen. A mediocre public reception cause the company's stock price to drop several dollars.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 18
    I'm happy with mine, but I agree they shouldn't be advertised as accurate. My Charge HR is frequently way off. It even reports readings when I'm not wearing it. But I figure the trends it shows are somewhat useful. I rely on it more for sleep and step measurements. If I bought it thinking it would be accurate for heart rate, I would be upset.
  • Reply 2 of 18
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,408member
    Do people actually expect EKG-level accuracy from something that cannot reliably maintain contact with skin anyway? "Stupid is as stupid does."
    djsherlyjbdragon
  • Reply 3 of 18
    djsherlydjsherly Posts: 1,031member
    Do people actually expect EKG-level accuracy from something that cannot reliably maintain contact with skin anyway? "Stupid is as stupid does."
    Exactly. Apple Watch reported my hr as 180 and I was hardly breaking a sweat during a recent run. Some of my Garmin toting friends also say this tech in general is good without really being spot on. 
  • Reply 4 of 18
    Do people actually expect EKG-level accuracy from something that cannot reliably maintain contact with skin anyway? "Stupid is as stupid does."
    Actually, they do. Reason being a combination of advertisement and your last sentence. 
  • Reply 5 of 18
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 2,315member
    My Apple Watch really struggles at higher heart rates, often jumping from 180 to 80 and back again within minutes... When my HR starts increasing fairly rapidly it can't keep track and takes several minutes before it works out it's >100.
  • Reply 6 of 18
    When I'm working out, I'll occasionally get an anomalous reading. I just give it a few seconds to correct. I found that the low numbers I get during sleep are likely correct (I charge 30 minutes in the evening and wear it to bed).
  • Reply 7 of 18
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,462member
    Wait. What? Only Apple gets sued in class actions. I read this on the Internet.
  • Reply 8 of 18
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 5,005member

    Define how accurate it needs to be. These are not like a EKG machine and measure with scientific accuracy of each and every heart beat. These people are nuts or OCD. They are an average approximation at best. What I read was most of these devices tend to read a little high since higher is better so you not over work, and the calories burn is shown as lower so people do not expect to loose weight if is showed higher or eat more because they thought they burned more. 

    I have to say the Applewatch is pretty good, but from time to time it gets a bad reading, how do I know well saying my heart rate is 30 when on the treadmill running I know is wrong and also when it says it is 250 and I am not about to pass out.

    Just this morning during my entire work out it said my heart was stuck at 76. I ended up blaming it on the watch not being tight on my wrist and the App I was using. I was not using the Apple app for heart rate as soon as I did and made sure the watch was tight against the skin it gave me a reading which appear correct for what I was doing.



    edited January 2016
  • Reply 9 of 18
    sachasacha Posts: 15member
    I am thinking of buying a Fitbit to track walking, but it's things like this that stop me.
  • Reply 10 of 18
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 23,171member
    sacha said:
    I am thinking of buying a Fitbit to track walking, but it's things like this that stop me.
    Under Armour has a pair of shoes for running that include tracking. Price is gonna be $150 which sounds fair enough.
    http://www.tomsguide.com/us/under-armour-ua-health-box,news-21941.html

    Garmin's Vivosmart HR is a bit overdone IMO but with included GPS it does make a great and reasonably accurate tracker and notification features can't be beat. 

    Edit: The Vivoactive includes GPS. The Vivosmart does not. My bad. 
    edited January 2016
  • Reply 11 of 18
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 3,395moderator
    The value in these fitness tracking devices/smartwatch fitness tracking capabilities is in the fact that all the measurements are against a single individual.  So to the extent they are off, they are off in the same manner against the entire history of measurement for that individual.  And that means that, while not great for recording precise data points, they are good for measuring relative activity levels.  They will tell you basically that you're doing better or worse this month versus last month, and for the casual fitness enthusiast that's valuable information.  They simply shouldn't be relied upon for precise discreet measurements.
    jis4uk
  • Reply 12 of 18
    raz0rraz0r Posts: 28member
    My Charge HR is frequently way off. It even reports readings when I'm not wearing it.
    I wouldn't worry about that. It's probably using The Force to sense your heart rate from across the room lol

    But seriously, no one should expect absolute EKG precision from these things. But that also makes them sort of useless. I mean, if all you can count on is "I'm exercising, so my heart rate seems to be up" do you really need a costly device to tell you that? If the almost passing out isn't enough to make you think that, just rest your fingers gently against your neck and feel it racing away. Your estimate should be in the same ballpark as the device.

    it will make sense when it will be, at least, close to EKG. Currently, devices with that chest strap thing seem to work much better.
  • Reply 13 of 18
    linkmanlinkman Posts: 1,015member
    The Charge HR does a decent job of heart rate, sleep, and step count tracking. Are there more accurate devices available? Yes, but unless you want to live like a cyborg with large, complex, and expensive medical grade devices hooked up to you then compromises must be made. If you want more accurate heart rate monitoring then get a chest strap device. If you want it to be really accurate then you'll have to attach several sensors. Want more accurate step counts? You'll need to put that on your leg/foot and even that can get fooled.

    My complaints with the Charge HR are its failures with syncing and incorrect time display. My wife's unit will never do the all-day sync and is very stubborn to sync when manually invoked -- most of the time it fails. Fitbit admits they have had a problem: http://help.fitbit.com/articles/en_US/Help_article/What-s-wrong-with-my-Charge-HR/?
  • Reply 14 of 18
    "As a rule, wrist-based optical heart rate sensors — including the one on the Apple Watch — are not as accurate as alternatives like chest straps. They can potentially be disrupted by a number of factors, such as a loose fit or even darker skin tones."

    This wrong. I train 6 days a week and use a Garmin forerunner 235- wrist based HR- It is as accurate as any strap I have used. In fact, DC Rainmaker.. I site that tests fitness products has actually done extensive comparisons of the wrist based and strap and sees very little difference. HR is just a tool. Is it spot on? likely not, but how can anyone say its not.. When I used a strap- I had lots of spikes and drops. On training rides or runs of 2 hrs or more- or in a race (Triathlon) the strap stops working when it gets soaked with sweat.. If you work with your device, it should be pretty accurate. If I see a spike or a drop.. I may re-position or tighten the watch and strap and this always fixes it.. I have no experience with the Apple watch.. cannot swim in it so its useless to me.. My wife has a fitbit and has never complained.
  • Reply 15 of 18
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,408member
    sacha said:
    I am thinking of buying a Fitbit to track walking, but it's things like this that stop me.
    If you want anything close to accurate, you'll need to buy a system with a chest strap.
  • Reply 16 of 18
    trumptmantrumptman Posts: 16,464member
    jis4uk said:
    "As a rule, wrist-based optical heart rate sensors — including the one on the Apple Watch — are not as accurate as alternatives like chest straps. They can potentially be disrupted by a number of factors, such as a loose fit or even darker skin tones."

    This wrong. I train 6 days a week and use a Garmin forerunner 235- wrist based HR- It is as accurate as any strap I have used. In fact, DC Rainmaker.. I site that tests fitness products has actually done extensive comparisons of the wrist based and strap and sees very little difference. HR is just a tool. Is it spot on? likely not, but how can anyone say its not.. When I used a strap- I had lots of spikes and drops. On training rides or runs of 2 hrs or more- or in a race (Triathlon) the strap stops working when it gets soaked with sweat.. If you work with your device, it should be pretty accurate. If I see a spike or a drop.. I may re-position or tighten the watch and strap and this always fixes it.. I have no experience with the Apple watch.. cannot swim in it so its useless to me.. My wife has a fitbit and has never complained.
    My wife has the fitbit as well and for her it does a pretty decent job. She doesn't need top flight accuracy to exercise. She needs something that reminds her she hasn't exercised or been very active. Then she needs something that with reasonable accuracy can let her know if she is actually in a state of aerobic exercise vs fat burning. (She is trying to improve her aerobic capability but often things that a fat burning level of exertion is high effort.)

    I use the Fenix 3 with a Mio Link. I own the Garmin HRM but really don't enjoy using it for riding the bike and it isn't even capable of being used for swimming. Like you note, I'm pretty good about knowing what represents an appropriate heart rate vs level of exertion and if something seems off, you just make a quick adjustment.

    All tech gear has caveats. This lawsuit is ridiculous.

    On a side note, how do you like the 24/7 monitoring of the 235? Do you use it at all and at what rate does it sample?
    edited January 2016 jis4uk
  • Reply 17 of 18
    trumptman said:
    jis4uk said:
    "As a rule, wrist-based optical heart rate sensors — including the one on the Apple Watch — are not as accurate as alternatives like chest straps. They can potentially be disrupted by a number of factors, such as a loose fit or even darker skin tones."

    This wrong. I train 6 days a week and use a Garmin forerunner 235- wrist based HR- It is as accurate as any strap I have used. In fact, DC Rainmaker.. I site that tests fitness products has actually done extensive comparisons of the wrist based and strap and sees very little difference. HR is just a tool. Is it spot on? likely not, but how can anyone say its not.. When I used a strap- I had lots of spikes and drops. On training rides or runs of 2 hrs or more- or in a race (Triathlon) the strap stops working when it gets soaked with sweat.. If you work with your device, it should be pretty accurate. If I see a spike or a drop.. I may re-position or tighten the watch and strap and this always fixes it.. I have no experience with the Apple watch.. cannot swim in it so its useless to me.. My wife has a fitbit and has never complained.
    My wife has the fitbit as well and for her it does a pretty decent job. She doesn't need top flight accuracy to exercise. She needs something that reminds her she hasn't exercised or been very active. Then she needs something that with reasonable accuracy can let her know if she is actually in a state of aerobic exercise vs fat burning. (She is trying to improve her aerobic capability but often things that a fat burning level of exertion is high effort.)

    I use the Fenix 3 with a Mio Link. I own the Garmin HRM but really don't enjoy using it for riding the bike and it isn't even capable of being used for swimming. Like you note, I'm pretty good about knowing what represents an appropriate heart rate vs level of exertion and if something seems off, you just make a quick adjustment.

    All tech gear has caveats. This lawsuit is ridiculous.

    On a side note, how do you like the 24/7 monitoring of the 235? Do you use it at all and at what rate does it sample?
    The lawsuit is a joke.. totally agree.. How in the world she will prove what her actual accurate HR was at the time the Fitbit was allegedly inaccurate is a complete mystery... My garmin (wrist based HR-235) keeps my HR swimming.. its not always accurate... but like you said- its about baselines the devices set based on what they measure and then using those baselines to measure improvement.. Hope people do not use this stupid suit as an excuse not to buy them..
  • Reply 18 of 18

    sacha said:
    I am thinking of buying a Fitbit to track walking, but it's things like this that stop me.
    If you want anything close to accurate, you'll need to buy a system with a chest strap.
    That is not accurate... Check this site out and read the reviews.. Read the review of the Garmin 235 and how he compares the wrist based to chest strap.. I have used both extensively and my HR numbers register the same with both.. 

    http://www.dcrainmaker.com
    gatorguy
Sign In or Register to comment.