Meet Aibo, Sony’s new robotic dog, introduced in the United States in September.
Cute, right? Sits on command. Plays with his cute little pink ball — Aibo loves pink. Scratch his cute round head and he dips it and wags his cute tail, adorably. He has a camera in his nose.
Would you like to own Aibo, maybe to liven up your Gold Coast apartment without the bother of taking an actual living dog on unpleasant, windswept walks in the wintertime?
Too bad. You can’t have him. And not just because of the price — about $3,000, a night on the town for Chicago’s nouveau rich.
No, you can’t have Aibo because nobody in the state can buy him. Sony won’t sell him in Illinois. It says so on Sony’s Aibo website if you try to order the little pup:
“This product is not for sale or use in the State of Illinois, and may not be shipped to purchasers in Illinois.”
Aw, gee. We know Illinois has problems. But are we so screwed up that multinational corporations won’t sell us a dog? Illinois is the only state in the country where Aibo is not sold.
What makes us so special?
Meet the 2008 Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. Without going too far into the legal weeds, it basically says if you collect the kind of information Aibo does — his computer brain looks at people’s faces, and can tell the difference between members of a household and play with them in different ways — you need that person’s “informed written consent.”
Sony wouldn’t comment — the cowards — but obviously don’t want to risk running afoul of the law.
“Compliance with this law not particularly complicated,” said Justin Kay, a partner at Drinker Biddle. “Read through the law, see the types of consent you need. The reason a company would choose not to do business here is they’ve seen lots of people getting sued under the law and say, ‘I just don’t want to deal with that.’ It’s an overreaction.”
Sony is not alone. Google’s Art & Culture app doesn’t offer its selfie function in Illinois either (it pairs users’ photos with works of fine art). And while Texas and Washington State have biometric laws, Illinois’ is unique in paving the road to lawsuits. Google already is being sued here, along with Facebook, Shutterfly, and many smaller companies.
“There are at least 120 lawsuits,” said Debra R. Bernard, a litigation partner at Perkins Coie. “The vast majority are employees against employers who use time clocks that use a finger scan to clock people in or out.”
Cases have been filed against “day care centers, condominium associations, hospitals, car dealerships, liquor stores, grocery stores, tanning salons,” and many other types of business, according to a brief filed by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, which called them “cookie-cutter complaints.”
Bernard represents the defendant in the most important of these cases: Stacy Rosenbach v. Six Flags Entertainment Corporation, set to be heard by the Illinois Supreme Court next week.
In June 2014, Alexander Rosenbach, 14, got a season pass at Six Flags Great America. The amusement park took his fingerprint, the suit alleges, “without properly obtaining written consent or disclosing their plan for the collection, storage, use, or destruction of his biometric identifiers or information.” The case hinges on one word: “aggrieved.”
Does a person need to show actual harm to bring a biometrics lawsuit? Or is not being informed enough? The Illinois high court finds the case so important it is livestreaming it at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
“Nov. 20, will be really, really, really, really, really significant case for biometrics,” said Kay. “If the Supreme Court says ‘aggrieved’ means more than you weren’t given the right disclosures, these lawsuits pretty much go away.”
If you’re wondering why some legislators don’t do that via statute, they’re trying — House Bill 5103 and Senate Bill 3053, both introduced last February, both languishing.
How bad should we in Illinois feel about missing out on Aibo?
“We sold this product 20 years ago,” said Jon Abt, co-president with his three brothers of the giant Abt Electronics, referring to a previous incarnation of Sony’s robot dog. “We were one of the only dealers in the country to carry them. It was very expensive. We sold very few. Maybe a dozen, and got returns on them.”
Abt spent about 20 minutes romping with the new Aibo at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year.
“He seems more intuitive,” he said. “The eyes are kind of lifelike.”
Something Abt would like to feature? Definitely.
“Just to show it, just for the novelty,” Abt said. “I don’t think there’s a huge demand. We would show it in our store, but not expect many sales out of it.”
And for readers just broken up about being denied Aibo: get a real dog. They’re more work, but the rewards are greater. Aibo will never love you. A real dog will. As with so much in life, you get out what you put in.