Google’s just launched Arts and Culture app features a highly popular selfie feature: Snap a selfie, and it’ll automatically find a painting that matches your look. But, if you get on a plane in LA, and land in Chicago or Austin, suddenly the feature will disappear. Why? Because Google is taking very serious state laws about how your face, voice, and other features are used by apps.
The Chicago Tribune explains that Illinois, Texas, and Washington are the three states with state-level laws on the books about biometric data. That includes pretty much everything that makes you you, including your face. In fact, these same laws mean only Americans can use the feature at the moment. Interestingly, an informal poll of the Uproxx team’s Pacific Northwest contingent found the app still worked in Washington state.
Rather than risk a silly feature in their app causing legal trouble, Google appears to have simply “geofenced” the app off from Illinois and Texas. If you’re in either state, it won’t work, but step outside of it and you’ll have all the painting results your heart desires.
It’s amusing, at least in this context, but this does illustrate a bigger concern going forward. Laws designed to protect our safety are inevitably going to come into conflict with tech companies — which tend to believe it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. If apps start becoming unusable just because you fly into a different city, it’s going to create a lot of conflict between states and companies, with customers caught in the middle.
(via The Chicago Tribune)