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Aibo’s dark side: Why Illinois bans Sony’s robot dog
The state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act prevents Sony from selling it there.
5:00 AM PDT
I’m watching Aibo, Sony’s robo-dog, scuttle around the office. Its mechanical joints make slow, noisy work of it on the concrete floor, but I can’t help but be mildly heart-warmed. I’d rather have a real dog here, but there’s something charming about Aibo. This is part of a CNET special report exploring the benefits and pitfalls of facial recognition.
The $2,900 pup is a companion robot, one Sony claims “learns its environment and develops relationships with people.” Aibo even enlists a camera in its nose to scan faces and determine who’s who so it can react to them differently.Because of our office pet’s face-detecting capabilities, Sony doesn’t sell Aibo in Illinois. The state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) regulates the collection of biometric data, including face scans.So Aibo’s out in the land of Lincoln, but the story doesn’t stop with Sony’s quirky robot. Illinois also limits access to facial recognition in home security cameras, a feature that’s becoming increasingly prevalent in the consumer security market. Let’s take a closer look at BIPA, the growth of biometric tech in consumer products — and how other states in the US treat your biometric info.
Security cameras with facial recognition tech inside
Illinois law The Biometric Information Privacy Act was established in 2008 to regulate “the collection, use, safeguarding, handling, storage, retention, and destruction of biometric identifiers and information.” BIPA defines “biometric identifiers” as retina scans, iris scans, fingerprints, hand scans, face scans and voiceprints. Basically, an individual or a company needs “informed written consent” to use another individual’s biometric info. State senator Terry Link for Illinois’ 30th district introduced Senate Bill 2400 on Feb. 14, 2008 to protect the biometric privacy of Illinois residents. State senators Christine Radogno, Iris Y. Martinez, David Koehler and Heather Steans served as co-sponsors of the bill. It was approved as the Biometric Information Privacy Act on Oct. 3, 2008.Senator Link filed an amendment to BIPA on May 26, 2016 to redefine “biometric identifier,” to make it easier to collect certain biometric data, but later withdrew the amendment.A Sony support page titled “Why Is Aibo Not for Sale in Illinois?” simply says: Due to state regulations and policies, the Aibo™ robotic companion is not for sale or use in Illinois. In order to mimic the behavior 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. While Sony simply opted out of selling the face-detecting Aibo in Illinois, other companies, like Nest
, sell their facial recognition-enabled cams in Illinois, with the facial recognition feature disabled.
A quick visit to the Nest Cam IQ Indoor page says “Familiar face alerts require a Nest Aware subscription. Not available on Nest Cams used in Illinois.”The Nest Cam IQ Indoor has an optional feature called familiar face alerts that you pay a monthly (or yearly) fee to access via the Nest Aware service. Like many other home security cameras with facial recognition, the IQ Indoor allows you to create a database with the faces of friends, family members, caregivers and any other people that regularly visit your home. That way, when you get a motion alert, the Nest app tells you it sees “Molly” or “Tyler.”That feature won’t work in Illinois, even if you pay for Nest Aware. Google disables Nest’s facial recognition capabilities in the state: “We use a variety of factors to determine a user’s location, including IP address of their devices and the physical address associated with their account,” a Google spokesperson told me over email. Privacy talk Although BIPA remains the strictest state privacy law, Texas and Washington also regulate biometric information. A Texas law, established in 2009, similarly defines biometric identifiers as “a retina or iris scan, fingerprint, voiceprint, or record of hand or face geometry.”A section of the law states: “A person may not capture a biometric identifier of an individual for a commercial purpose unless the person: informs the individual before capturing the biometric identifier; and receives the individual’s consent to capture the biometric identifier.” Washington’s 2017 House Bill 493 doesn’t specifically reference face or hand scans in its definition of biometric identifier. The definition also doesn’t include “a physical or digital photograph, video or audio recording or data generated therefrom, or information collected, used, or stored for health care treatment, payment, or operations under the federal health insurance portability and accountability act of 1996.” The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group for digital privacy, supports state regulation of biometric data.”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,” EFF senior staff attorney Adam Schwartz says during a phone interview while referencing Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act.”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,” Schwartz adds.
The facial recognition landscape At the same time that states are implementing biometric privacy laws, we’re seeing more consumer devices with facial recognition. Here’s a list of home security cameras you can buy today with facial recognition capabilities.Not only is facial recognition more prevalent, we’re also seeing more products that enlist fingerprints or hand scans. The iPhone and other smartphones have fingerprint-scanning capabilities so you can quickly unlock your phone. I saw a smart lock at CES 2019 called the Elecpro US:E that relies on a face scan and a hand scan to unlock.Airports are increasingly adding tech that scans faces or fingerprints to determine who you are, too. Schwartz refers to the growing popularity of biometric tech as a “normalization of biometrics,” something the EFF finds concerning, he says. “If you start using biometrics to board your airplane because it’s convenient, other forms of biometrics seem more normal. We’re very concerned about that,” explains Schwartz. Whether or not you’re personally concerned about your biometric data, expect to see more regulations around it in the coming years. Alaska, Michigan, Montana and New Hampshire are already working on their own biometric laws. And, given the influx of devices that use biometric information both for consumer and commercial purposes, more are probably on the way.
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