In the case of Fitbit and an impending class action lawsuit, it’s an allegedly pointless cash grab up against another allegedly pointless cash grab. Still, both sides have something gain, “reliable” studies to back them up, and no intention of backing down.
Fitbit, which is based in San Francisco, California, is currently fending off accusations that its tracker’s heart rate monitor is highly inaccurate. A recent study has gone as far as to imply the tracker is off by a dangerous margin.
According to CNBC, researchers at California State Polytechnic University found the product “miscalculated heart rates by up to 20 beats per minute on average during more intensive workouts.”
The study concluded, “[The Fitbit tracker] cannot be used to provide a meaningful estimate of a user’s heart rate.”
Fitbit issued a strongly worded statement on Monday in response to the unflattering study.
“[These findings were] paid for by plaintiffs’ lawyers who are suing Fitbit, and was conducted with a consumer-grade electrocardiogram – not a true clinical device, as implied by the plaintiffs’ lawyers. Furthermore, there is no evidence the device used in the purported ‘study’ was tested for accuracy.”
Fitbit is correct in that the California State Polytechnic University study was commissioned by Lieff Cabraser, the law firm behind the class action suit. Lieff Cabraser responded to Fitbit’s statement with the claim that their paying for this research didn’t affect the findings. The law firm might also have a point.
As reported by CNBC, Ball State University in Indiana performed similar research. The study, released in February, found the Fitbit tracker to be inaccurate by as much as 14 percent. CNET referenced Berkley Science Review, which found Fitbit trackers to be accurate as pedometers, but nothing else — a not measurement of calories burned or distance covered by users.
The accuracy of Fitbit’s products remains an ongoing source of controversy. Even so, research for this article showed doubts and concerns existed for at least a few years prior to a lawsuit being filed.
“Consumer Reports independently tested the heart rate accuracy of the Charge HR and Surge after the initial lawsuit was filed in January and gave both products an “excellent” rating. We stand behind our heart-rate monitoring technology and all our products and continue to believe the plaintiffs’ allegations do not have any merit.”
Also in Fitbit’s corner is the Mac Observer — at least concerning the possible motives behind the recent study. The Observer outright called the research “dubious,” noting that the study “did a poor job of showing what we already knew.”
“A new study claims Fitbit’s fitness trackers don’t accurately measure user’s heart rate. That shouldn’t come as a big surprise considering Fitbit’s products don’t undergo FDA approval, but the study itself is dubious first because of its questionable methods and second because it was commissioned by a law firm that’s currently suing Fitbit.”
The Mac Observer also criticized California State Polytechnic University researchers for blaming alleged inaccuracy on Fitbit’s algorithms. The problem: Fitbit’s code was never part of the original study. Speculation without backing research is highly problematic.
Dr. Allan Stewart, the director of aortic surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital, also expressed a bit of concern about the study’s funding background. Stewart tells CNBC that if the research is correct, “athletes may be at a minimum improperly training and, at worst, potentially elevating their heart rates to an unsafe level where a massive heart attack is entirely possible.”
Both Fitbit and the law firm connected to the lawsuit have their own agendas. They each have resources that effectively “prove” that their view of the Fitbit tracker and related technology is trustworthy. The problem for consumers is that neither side may be exactly trustworthy thanks to money-linked motives.
Additional independent studies via neutral entities are needed to provide better insight into the accuracy and safety of Fitbit trackers.
Do you believe the latest Fitbit study? Does the fact that the suing law firm funded the recent study make the findings suspicious? Share your thoughts below!
[Photo by Charlie Neibergall, File/AP Images]