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Fitbit heart rate trackers “highly inaccurate,” research finds (Update)

by Todd Haselton | May 23, 2016May 23, 2016 2:20 pm PDT

The problem with wearables these days is simple: if the information they’re relaying to you isn’t accurate, they’re basically useless. That appears to be the case with the heart-rate monitors on Fitbit products, which were recently tested by California State Polytechnic University.

The school found, according to CNBC, that heart rates were sometimes off by as many as 20 beats per minute. That’s a crazy figure, especially considering this is the number people often use to judge workout intensity. It’s also dangerous to so inaccurately guess a user’s heart rate, and makes the number seem almost fictional.

“The PurePulse Trackers do not accurately measure a user’s heart rate, particularly during moderate to high intensity exercise, and cannot be used to provide a meaningful estimate of a user’s heart rate,” the study said, according to CNBC. The whole point of the study was to help provide data for use in a lawsuit against Fitbit, which argues that its wearables provide inaccurate data.

Fitbit isn’t as convinced, and it argues that the electrocardiogram used in the study for comparison might not have been tested for accuracy first. “Fitbit’s research team rigorously researched and developed PurePulse technology for three years prior to introducing it to market and continues to conduct extensive internal studies to test the features of our products,” the company said.

Update: Fitbit responded to the report with this comment:

What the plaintiffs’ attorneys call a “study” is biased, baseless, and nothing more than an attempt to extract a payout from Fitbit. It lacks scientific rigor and is the product of flawed methodology. It was 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’s research team rigorously researched and developed the technology for three years prior to introducing it to market and continues to conduct extensive internal studies to test the features of our products. Fitbit Charge HR is the #1 selling fitness tracker on the market, and is embraced by millions of consumers around the globe.

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. We are vigorously defending against these claims, and will resist any attempts by the plaintiffs’ lawyers to leverage a settlement with misleading tactics and false claims of scientific evidence.


Todd Haselton

Todd Haselton has been writing professionally since 2006 during his undergraduate days at Lehigh University. He started out as an intern with...