The Health Hazards of Wearable Technology
January 16, 2014 | 12:15 pm
By Joanna Cabot
Wearable Technology was one of the hot buzzwords at CES this year. My personal feeling was that too many were rushing onto the bandwagon without much though to utility (do any of us really need Facebook status updates on a watch when our phones do that already?) but there was one product line that did interest me: the wearable fitness tracker, of which Fitbit is the market leader. Their new ‘Force’ packaged a pedometer, altimeter and sleep tracker into a sleek watch-like band—which told time too.
The Force has been sold out since launch, so I have been kept waiting. And this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. A Facebook friend alerted me to this news story, which is widely being reported elsewhere, that many Force users have reported alarming rashes on their wrists and arms from wearing the device. Several have had to seek medical treatment for irritations, blisters and burns.
A statement from the company states that the ‘elastomer’ wristband material and stainless steel clasps and casing are commonly used in jewelry, so what gives? The Fitbit company itself suggests that nickel sensitivity might be a factor in some instances. Commenters on the various news sites are also suggesting a fungus (from water accumulation or bacteria build-up on the waterproof band) or some sort of leakage issue with the port where the battery gets charged. To Fitbit’s credit, the reports are also saying that they will offer refunds or exchanges to any customer who is affected.
This unfortunate situation strikes me as classic 1.0 syndrome. I have no doubt Fitbit will investigate this issue thoroughly, and by next year’s holiday season, a better and safer product will be on the shelves. As for me, I haven’t yet decided what I’ll do. I was intrigued by the multifunction aspect of gaining a pedometer function in the same footprint as a wrist watch—but I do have very delicate skin and I feel like if there is a chance something in there is capable off causing an allergic reaction, my body would be extremely likely to take it. I just can’t risk it. So, either I wait for the 2.0, or I buy the one you can wear over clothes and wear it in addition to, not instead of, the regular watch I have already.
So, what’s the problem here? Is it a manufacturing glitch? A quality control issue? Or are human beings simply not meant to strap a screen and a battery directly onto their skin 24/7?