Nike and Apple have agreed to settle in a class action lawsuit alleging that the two sold the Nike FuelBand fitness tracker in spite of knowing that the device’s biometrics measurements were inaccurate.
As a result, Nike will pay out $2.4 million in claims to people who bought the FuelBand between January 2012 and June 2015. Apple, which sold the FuelBand in its stores up until March of this year, will pay nothing.
The plaintiffs in the class argued that the calorie burn, steps, and overall activity measurements in the device’s “NikeFuel” dashboard were inaccurate, and that Nike and Apple continued marketing the product with this knowledge.
This is the dirty little secret of fitness trackers in general. Certainly many of them present accurate information, but many others do not. All one needs to do is wear several types of trackers for a day and compare the results. They won’t be the same, and may even be wildly different.
But the devices have met with very little scrutiny in terms of the data they present.
Trackers often claim to present data like “calorie burn” based on several sensor readings and an algorithm. But they overreach. The reading of an accelerometer can’t possibly gather enough data about the user’s body and activity to claim to measure weight loss or blood pressure, or to make statements about the quality of sleep.
Consumers often let fitness tracker makers off the hook by saying that the numbers are only relative. That is, they look for positive or negative changes in the numbers over time rather than the accuracy of the numbers themselves.
This creates a very low bar for device makers. If a scale tells me I weigh 830 pounds, why would I then trust it to accurately report my weight loss progress from there? The numbers just don’t work out.
We’ve set a low expectation level for fitness trackers. That’s probably a big part of why we don’t feel too bad about dumping them in a drawer after a couple of months and leaving them there. More troubling is that Apple and Nike were apparently satisfied with this low benchmark.
We may see more lawsuits like this one as the fitness tracker market matures.
Many basic fitness trackers consist of just a piece of plastic, an inexpensive accelerometer, an app and some algorithms. Hundreds of companies rushed a product into the market as consumer interest grew rapidly over the past few years.
Now consumers need to insist on accurate data. And people in the tech media need to do a lot more to distinguish the accurate products from the not-so-accurate.
Nike ceased production of fitness wearables last year, preferring to create only the fitness software.