Nearly all of the largest manufacturers of wearable heart rate trackers rely on technology that could be less reliable for consumers who have darker skin, according to researchers, engineers, and other experts who spoke with STAT.
The potential inaccuracies have broad implications for the growing body of scientific research that relies on these wearables — as well as for the increasing number of people whose employers offer financial incentives or other benefits for using Fitbits and other trackers.
Concerns about the devices also come amid a broader reckoning over whether new technologies are as objective as they appear — and whether implicit prejudices are shaping their development.
Researchers and scientists who spoke with STAT were careful to point out that there isn’t clear research that shows exactly how accurate consumer heart rate trackers are for people with darker skin — the issue has hardly been studied, in part because the technology changes so fast. But they also emphasized that the effect of melanin on green light absorption is well-documented — and that without more research or more public information from the manufacturers about accuracy, it is equally hard to prove there isn’t an impact.
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