It’s important that you get what you pay for. If something you buy – a bed, a car, a computer, or a sandwich – makes a certain claim, it’s reasonable to expect that claim to be true. When companies make false claims (and they do, all the time) consumers have the right to seek compensation through a lawsuit.
So, if food manufacturers sell GMO food as “natural,” consumers can take action. If shoes are sold using claims they improve your health – and studies later find out that they don’t – then consumers can seek compensation. And, if Fitbit advertisements claim the devices can track how long users sleep, then consumers can file a lawsuit if that’s proven not to be true – even if the discrepancy’s hardly something to lose sleep over (ahem).
Fitbit Inc., the manufacturer of a wearable fitness tracker you’ve probably been told about by your healthy friends, is facing a class action from California and Florida customers who say the devices’ sleep trackers don’t work. According to the complaint, amended last week to include more plaintiffs, customers paid a $30 premium for Fitbit products that purported to accurately track how long a person slept, the quality of their sleep, and the exact moment the user woke up.
Devices apparently sold at the higher price include Fitbit Force, Fitbit Flex, Fitbit One, Fitbit Ultra, Fitbit Charge, Fitbit Charge HR, and Fitbit Surge – and claims that these devices would track sleep time and sleep quality appeared on outer packaging. The problem? Research published in 2012 suggests that the devices’ sleep monitoring technology is widely flawed. As the lawsuit explains:
“Despite Fitbit’s specific representations that the Fitbit sleep-tracking function can and does track and provide precise and accurate numbers, down to the minute, of how much sleep a user gets, the Fitbit sleep-tracking function simply does not and cannot accurately provide these numbers.”
Now, before we get carried away, it’s worth noting that the lawsuit’s accusations are hardly earth shattering. Fitbit users, the complaint laments, have suffered because their sleep tracking readings were “overestimated [...] by 67 minutes per night.” That’s 67 minutes, presumably, that they’ll never get back.
More seriously, plaintiffs in the lawsuit are seeking compensation because they paid more for a product that doesn’t do what it promised. While plaintiffs could have purchased the Fitbit Zip, which makes no claims about sleep tracking, they chose more expensive alternatives because the packaging boasted the devices would track their sleep accurately. If true, that’s false advertising – and, since justice is blind, lying about 67 minutes of sleep is just as bad as lying about the ingredients or health benefits of baby formula. The case is being heard in the United States District Court, Northern District of California.
Finally, for those interested: The study quoted in the lawsuit was published in a journal of the National Center of Biotechnology Information. Despite its snappy title – “Movement Toward a Novel Activity Monitoring Device” – the study is an academic look at sleep monitoring using two standard and accepted systems, polysomnography (real-time monitoring of sleeping patients using electrodes) and actigraphy (general movement monitoring using an actimetry sensor). To make their point, plaintiffs in the case highlighted the fact that Fitbit uses neither of these techniques, but instead tracks sleep using an accelerometer – technology that could never provide the level of data supplied by accepted sleep-monitoring techniques, and is, at best, good for rough estimates of sleep-time movement. Or, to put it their way:
“The Fitbit sleep-tracking function simply does not and cannot inform the user how well they slept with any accuracy whatsoever because the Fitbit devices can only measure movement and not sleep.”
Of course, Fitbits are supposed to measure movement – that’s their whole point. Sadly, this time, it just won’t be enough.