Fitbit set for legal faceoff with Australian watchdog over refund and replacement policy

Fitbit Versa 4, Sense 2 and Inspire 3
(Image credit: Fitbit)

Google-owned fitness company Fitbit has been slammed by new allegations on behalf of Australia's competition watchdog, the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission), who alleges the company has made “false or misleading representations” about guarantee rights for customers “under the Australian Consumer Law after their Fitbit wearable devices malfunctioned”.

The allegations further claim that between May 2020 and February 2022 particularly, Fitbit made representations to Aussie consumers that they wouldn’t be entitled to any refund for a faulty product if seeking to make a return after 45 days from the date of purchase or shipment. This is the second time Fitbit has been slammed by the ACCC, following very similar allegations made against the wearable manufacturer in 2018.

“Fitbit has again come to the ACCC’s attention for allegedly misleading consumers about their consumer guarantee rights,” said ACCC Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb in a statement, “We are taking this case against Fitbit because we consider the alleged conduct is serious and that manufacturers should have processes in place that ensure compliance with the Australian Consumer Law.”

When sought for comment, a Fitbit spokesperson told TechRadar Australia, “Fitbit will be reviewing the ACCC’s allegations and does not have further comments to share at this time.”

Google could not be reached for comment at time of publication.

Analysis: Respecting your rights

Under Australian consumer law, a customer’s rights in respect to a faulty product are not limited by any time periods, either from date of purchase or otherwise. The law further enforces that businesses and manufacturers who sell a product with a major problem, or which develops a major problem, must provide Aussie consumers with either a refund or offer of replacement.

A deduction from a refund made based on how long a consumer has had a product before it develops a major problem is also not permitted under Australian consumer law.

Fitbit’s new stoush with the Aussie watchdog adds to a rough few months for the fitness tracker giant, having been faced with troubling issues plaguing its existing products while continuing to lose ground in the wearables market to the Apple Watch and seeing fellow competitor Samsung gaining considerable momentum with its Galaxy Watch offerings.

Meanwhile, Google’s other entry into the wearables space – the Google Pixel Watch – has faced some issues of its own despite an initially warm reception upon its release. Given the importance of fitness tracking to wearables, and Google’s ownership of the pioneers in the fitness tracking space (aka Fitbit), reports of persistent issues with the Pixel Watch’s tracking of calories burned would be cause for concern to the tech giant. Poor battery life has also been a constant complaint since the Pixel Watch’s release, an issue similarly faced by primary competitor the Apple Watch when compared to wearables with less functions such as those in the Fitbit range. Likewise, user reception pointing out how poorly the Pixel Watch manages to differentiate itself from competitors or demonstrate any advantage has led to considerable disappointment given the hype ahead of the watch’s release. 

While the aforementioned issues don’t come under consumer law protections, this legal battle could be cause for concern and hopefully a prod for Google to improve its entries in the wearables market, with Fitbit’s ability to comply with consumer laws likely one such area now high on the agenda.

The ACCC is seeking penalties, injunctions, a compliance program and other orders against Fitbit, with adjustments expected to be made for future proceedings given that Fitbit is based in the United States.

James Cutler
Staff Writer

James is a senior journalist with the TechRadar Australia team, covering news, analysis and reviews in the worlds of tech and the web with a particular focus on smartphones, TVs and home entertainment, AR/VR, gaming and digital behaviour trends. He has worked for over six years in broadcast, digital and print journalism in Australia and also spent time as a nationally recognised academic specialising in social and digital behaviour trends. In his spare time, he can typically be found bouncing between one of a number of gaming platforms or watching anything horror.