Sony’s Aibo robot dog is banned in one US state – here’s why

While it’s common for tech manufacturers to offer products in some countries and not others, it’s rare we see a product with varying availability in different parts of a single country. However, that’s the exact state of play with Aibo, an AI-powered robotic dog from Sony, which isn’t available to buy in the US state of Illinois.

That’s because, which is home to cities like Chicago and Aurora, has strict laws pertaining to the collection of biometric data. The $2,900 Aibo pup features a camera in its nose, which learns to recognise members of the household and to interact with them differently.

That facial recognition tech means it falls foul of the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act, which forbids taking a user’s biometric information without their consent.

On a support page, Sony says:

Due to state regulations and policies, the Aibo robotic companion is not for sale or use in Illinois.

In order to mimic the behaviour of an actual pet, an Aibo device will learn to behave differently around familiar people. To enable this recognition, Aibo conducts a facial analysis of those it observes through its cameras. This facial-recognition data may constitute “biometric information” under the law of Illinois, which places specific obligations on parties collecting biometric information. Thus, we decided to prohibit purchase and use of Aibo by residents of Illinois.

As CNET points out in its interesting investigative report, this isn’t the first time tech manufacturers have found themselves shut out of the Midwest state. Google-owned Nest doesn’t offer its Familiar Face alerts with a Nest Aware subscription to users in Illinois. That means those users aren’t told that it’s family members roaming their abode, rather than a potential intruder.

There are similar laws in Texas and Washington in the United States, but the Illinois BIPA law remains the strictest. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for strong user privacy, says governments should be doing more.

“When you start to capture biometrics from people it turns a corner to where we think that shouldn’t be happening without the consent of the person who’s biometrics are being taken,” Adam Schwartz of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said.

“What it says [BIPA] is that, one private person can’t take biometrics from another private person without their consent. And that’s where we [the EFF] would draw the line,” he said.

Do you think lawmakers should be doing more to protect our biometric information? Let us know @TrustedReviews on Twitter.

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