Beware of dogs

I love dogs. While I see the value of cat ownership, it is the dog that has my heart. Up until a few years ago when Drew and I had to put our aged, suffering, black lab down; we always had a dog, sometimes two. Growing up, our dogs were an integral part of my family.

A few weeks ago, I came across a column in the Chicago Sun-Times that caught my attention. Aibo, Sony’s new robotic dog introduced in September, will not be sold in Illinois. While the need for a robotic dog escapes me and the price tag of $3,000 makes me a bit queasy, I was intrigued by Sony’s decision not to sell the battery-powered pet in Illinois. Yes, Illinois is the only state in the nation in where one cannot purchase the pricey pooch.

I delved further.

In addition to customizing its type of play to the human interacting with it – I must admit, that is pretty cool – the seemingly harmless artificial “man’s best friend” collects data on its owners.

Gasp! Yep, it’s a mole.

Determining the type of play to engage in occurs due to facial recognition capabilities which is in direct violation of Illinois’ 2008 Biometric Information Privacy Act. Such data gathering, under the act, must have “informed written consent.” Cameras are in the nose and lower back. Screens for those puppy eyes and touch sensors all over the body provide a plethora of information which is uploaded constantly because the sneaky little devil is always online.

Oh man, I have so many questions. Is this an example of technology going wild? What is Sony planning on doing with the data those cute little Aibos are collecting? Why is Illinois the only state where residents are prohibited from Aibo purchases? Surely other states have similar laws.

The fact is that many states do have similar laws, but Illinois is the only state that has an abundance of lawsuits stemming from them, and Sony doesn’t want any part of our neighboring state’s litigious nature.

Sony has good reason for simply not providing Aibo to Illinoisans – 120 lawsuits, to date, have already been filed.

While the surreptitious gathering, transmitting and storage of personal information by companies is appalling, it is hardly surprising. We have voluntarily given up all kinds of personal information, often not knowing that we are doing so. But, why did the powers that be have to use a dog as their agent of duplicity?

To this day I miss the unconditional love that was so apparent as I walked in the door and was greeted by my furry friend – tail wagging and, I swear, a smile on his face! How could anyone think that a mechanical doggie wanna-be could replace that?

But if you are so inclined and your pocketbook can accommodate the price, be heartened. Aibo can be yours. Sony sells him/her/it to Hoosiers!

Just be aware that while you are romping with a machine that cannot snuggle, some of your personal information is being gathered for uses unknown.

Wendy J. Levenfeld is a published novelist, playwright and columnist. Send comments to Visit Wendy’s website at

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