One of the largest medical device companies in the world is warning some of its diabetic customers not to upgrade to iOS 17 and to disable automatic updates because a new feature may break some key functionality on several of the company’s glucose monitors. The affected features include alarms that tell users if their glucose is too low or too high, a sign that they may need to take immediate action.
Owners of the FreeStyle Libre 3, one of Abbott Laboratories’ flagship glucose monitors, received an email this week warning them to “disable automatic system updates on your iPhone” because the new operating system’s StandBy Mode and Assistive Access Mode “may impact your ability to receive time-sensitive notifications including glucose alarms and notifications indicating that alarms are unavailable.”
“Key Steps to Optimize your FreeStyle Libre System on iOS 17,” the email reads. “While our teams are working quickly to verify and confirm compatibility, we recommend that you disable automatic operating system updates on the smartphone using the mentioned apps. Please check the compatibility guide on myfreestyle.com before the new operating system is installed.”
Abbott is telling customers who have already upgraded to disable StandBy Mode, which activates the iPhone’s Lock Screen while it’s charging and placed on its side. They are also being advised to turn off “Assistive Access” mode, an accessibility mode for people with disabilities. Abbott says that this mode “will impact your ability to activate a sensor, modify your alarm settings, or receive glucose alarm notifications from our apps.”
Abbott writes on its website that failure to take action when users get an alarm, or failure to use the device “as instructed in labeling may result in missing a severe low or high glucose event and/or making a treatment decision, resulting in injury.”
The FreeStyle Libre 3 is advertised to “take the mystery out of diabetes management.” But the compatibility issue with iOS 17 highlights some of the many problems with turning everything into an internet-of-things device whose core functionality is dependent on software that can be fallible. We have repeatedly seen things like internet-connected baby monitors get hacked and turned into botnets, washing machines that need access to your contacts list, internet-connected exercise bikes that suddenly brick themselves, and smarthome devices that break entirely after a company goes out of business, is sold, or simply decides to stop supporting older technology.
As medical device manufacturers insist on app-ifying everything, we are going to continue to see problems like the one happening now with the FreeStyle Libre 3. With medical devices, though, the internet of shit isn’t just annoying, it can potentially be dangerous.
Users of the earlier FreeStyle Libre and FreeStyle Libre 2, meanwhile, are urged to make sure that their devices do not overheat under a separate safety recall in which their embedded batteries can catch fire if the wrong charging cable is used.
Abbott and Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.