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The Force isn’t with me anymore, and shouldn't be with anyone

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Fitbit Force fitness tracker bracelet

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I was one of the first to flock to Fitbit’s Flex fitness band/pedometer/sleep, eating and weight monitor, and liked it, but had a few complaints. Namely, there were no readouts on the bracelet, including time, and you were totally dependent on the app. Also, the charging time was bad—it only held a charge for a maximum of 5 days, usually less. Plus, it had a very awkward charging procedure, which required you to remove the bean-like tracker from the band, put it into the charging caddy, and plug that into the USB port on your computer.

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As though they heard my complaints, which they probably had heard from others, they announced their new improved band, the Force, in October/November, 2013. Excited, I preordered, and was one of the first to receive it in November. I quickly put my Flex up for sale on eBay, and it was gone.

I was very happy with the new Force, in spite of the fact that it was bigger and fatter than the Flex, and was just as difficult to fasten until the band material loosened up. There were a few glitches, such as the button on the side didn’t always respond to continued pressure to enter the sleep mode, but the charge time was better (7 days), the charging was easier (just plug the whole bracelet into a USB port), and it had time and progress readouts on the window of the band. I loved it, and literally was never without it except when showering!

But, lurking beneath this window and tracker of the Force, was a “surgical” grade stainless steel charging port, which was recessed, but nonetheless exposed. This stainless steel, unbeknown to me contained nickel, a metal to which so many people were allergic. And I was sensitive to nickel.

I did not realize this when I received the Force, and wore it with no problems for about 2 months before developing a very angry red rash directly beneath where the metal charging port sat on my wrist. Thinking it must have been an anomaly, perhaps the. force was pressed into my wrist by a tight jacket cuff, I switched the bracelet to the other wrist. MISTAKE!! A new “rash” of raging red bumps quickly popped up on the other wrist, as well, and the first wrist’s “rash” kept getting larger, redder, and more swollen, even after the Force was removed. This was NO nickel allergic reaction that I had ever seen!

I completely removed the fitness tracker band, but over 2 months later the “rash" has become a bad and deep burn, and is still angry, red, and still doesn’t respond to creams or medications. In fact, even without the band on, it kept getting larger and nastier. This bad burn has the texture of reptile skin, and seems to be scarring both of my wrists.

When I realized this was not just a standard temporary rash, I Googled the “Fitbit Force” and “rash”, and ended up on the Fitbit Forum’s 348+ pages full of angry Force wearers who suffered identical reactions. Most were imploring Fitbit to give them information on what injured them. Only there did I find out that Fitbit had long before discovered bad reactions to their Force, and at that time staged a “voluntary” recall. Once returned, we were to receive a refund in 2-6 weeks—a long time to wait while doctor bills are coming in—and I’m still waiting. Furthermore, once you are accustomed to these health tracking devices (I have their wifi scale, as well), you come to depend on them. Since, in the past, Fitbit’s development has crawled at a turtle’s pace (I waited 5 months for a colored band for my Flex!), their “new and improved” model is unlikely to show up quickly, if ever.

The worst part of all this is that Fitbit refuses to tell any of us (at least 10,000 were affected, probably much, much more) what it is that injured and possibly scarred us for life. Doctors have told expectant and nursing mothers not to nurse, because whatever it is could injure the baby.

People literally recoil when a sleeve slips up showing the raging red reptilian scar on both wrists. Usually the scars are at least the size of a quarter, and often crusted and oozing. Because Fitbit won’t impart any results from their testing, sufferers and doctors alike are baffled and aren’t sure how to treat it. Many of us turned to cortisone, but that should not be continued after the initial “rash” has turned into a nasty burn. Others put Neosporin on it, which made it worse. When I finally realized that I should see my doctor, she said it was a bad burn, deep into the dermis of the skin, and the only thing I could do to TRY to heal it was treat it like a bad burn—but there was no guarantee that it wouldn’t scar. Great. Just when the long winter is finally melting into spring, and short sleeves are coming!

While trying to heal my scarred wrists, I still miss a fitness tracker. I am left with few options. I can buy yet another Flex (which still has many shortcomings compared to the Force, and costs almost as much), go without (huh???), or jump ship to another fitness tracker company which may be generally judged not as good as the Force.

Fitbit, who will likely lose many loyal customers in the deal, poorly thought this out. Once someone begins the tracker habit, he or she comes to rely on its feedback for their health. As many times as I and thousands of others wrote, called, emailed, and contacted Fitbit via their forum, Fitbit has issued nothing but canned statements minimizing the damage, and offering no help to the wounded.

It is no surprise that these intelligent and patient people have finally initiated a class action lawsuit, primarily to discover the dangerous and injurious ingredient. Fitbit has had some of the Forces tested, BUT WON’T RELEASE THE FINDINGS TO HELP US. When we receive our “return kits”, the return envelope is addressed to a hazardous waste disposal company—Fitbit certainly doesn’t want these dangerous things back. But they should, if only to test the actual units that have affected so many people.

The Gomez Firm of San Diego filed the class action lawsuit with James Spivey as the initiating plaintiff. He has publicly stated “I have a concern that there is still a risk of developing an injury for me and others.” Spivey believes it’s Fitbit’s responsibility to be proactive about alerting customers, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The government finally stepped in, and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced the recall, as well as banned any sales anywhere in the US of the dangerous Fitbit Force. However, Fitbit knew for months about the potential danger to its users, but is just now sending out emails telling people they are being recalled.

During those months of not being informed, scores of unfortunate and unaware people developed this burn that, once smitten, may never go away. People are spending huge sums of money on doctor bills and medication. Diabetics are in grave danger, as the wounds can easily become infected and potentially life-threatening. Hundreds and hundreds of users have posted photos of their burns on the forum, and most look eerily similar, and are all in the same position on the wrist. Then there are the once “cocky” users who “aren’t afraid of a little rash”; and, despite the recall, continued to use the deadly band. All too many ended up crawling back to the forum, admitting that they, too, eventually fell victim. It is suspected that it will eventually effect everyone.

Many are learning from the “teardown” video, which shows a large amount of adhesive around the interior of the Force. Fitbit stated that these adhesives are commony used in consumer electronics. But they are NOT mean to be in constant 24/7 contact with human skin.

Theories of the cause have included toxic adhesive not meant for skin contact, the battery connection “leaking”, radiation from such an expansion, other harmful and undisclosed ingredients in the steel, such as chromium, toxic substances used to “clean” the parts during assembly, and dozens of other theories. Whatever it is literally burns through several layers of skin, and this sinister effect takes on a life of its own from there. Even when you remove the device, the wound/rash/burn keeps growing and festering until it is many times its original size. Taking the Force off does not stop the progression to a large, angry red, blistering scarring burn that keeps eating into your skin. Ironically, the packaging on the Force had the “RoHS Compliant” symbol, indicating it was free of any hazardous substance. However, investigation from forum participants discovered that China, where Fitbit had its Force made, is not held to the same standard for compliance. Think of lead in children’s toys…

The first articles about this posited that the affected users must have been hypersensitive, allergic, unhygienic, wore it too tightly, or other dismissive guesses at why those of us who got the “little rash” were "whining". At the first, Fitbit estimated approximately 10,000 had been affected. This has to be considerably understated, as that estimate was made before most of us even realized that others had the identical wound in the identical place with the identical progression and the identical appearance. It must be many, many times that now that users are finally being notified that their device is dangerous and not due to poor hygiene on their part. Fitbit’s tone has undergone many evolutions, and their “official” email, received by some as late as today, essentially states that consumers should stop wearing it immediately and return it for a refund. You can fill out a form here to receive your refund: http://fitbit.expertproductinquiry.com/Force.aspx

The Consumer Protection Safety Commission Force recall: https://www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls/2014/Fitbit-Recalls-Force-Activity-Track...

Furthermore, you can report it to the government agency responsible for investigating unsafe products: http://www.saferproducts.gov/Default.aspx .

To see all the horrible photos and testimonials of those injured and the responses (or lack thereof) of the moderators, you can look at the 348+ pages of the Fitbit forum regarding the burns here: https://community.fitbit.com/t5/Force/Fitbit-burned-arm/

Some members are keeping statistics on those affected. You can make sure your injury is included here: http://tinyurl.com/psztvbe

Sadly, even at this very late date, several forum participants have NOT received this important notification from Fitbit. According to the Gomez law firm “The Fitbit Force is a dangerous, defective product causing skin burns, blisters, open wounds, skin cracking, peeling, and tissue and nerve damage, among other injuries. The Fitbit Force has already injured thousands of customers who trusted Fitbit to make a health and wellness product that was safe and effective.” Anyone interested in joining the class action suit requiring answers from Fitbit can join here: http://www.thegomezfirm.com/fitbit-lawsuits/

So, while I’m investigating other fitness trackers, I’m no longer supportive or loyal to Fitbit, and certainly wouldn’t trust anything else they ever put out. Plus, I’m now extremely band tracker-shy. How do any of us know just what it was that scarred us? Giving a refund (which they had to do anyway according to their warranty) without any resolution, leaves their loyal customers high and dry.

My wrists can’t take anymore, so the Force is no longer with me. Fitbit—wake up and listen to your customers! DO SOMETHING proactive for us lab rats who have suffered with your dangerous “not ready for prime time” product! If you continue to abandon us, you will find yourself trying to start all over again to develop an enthusiastic customer base—if you can afford it after the recall and lawsuit, and if ANYONE will ever trust you again.

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