Amazon Has More in Mind Than Deliveries When It Comes to Drones

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. Nope, it’s a drone.

Nobody knows how many drones are flying around the country. But the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicts that 7 million will have been produced by 2020.

And soon there could be even more, thanks to Amazon. The question is, what will Amazon’s drones be doing? Delivering… observing… spying? All three?

And who will have access to the information these drones observe? Is this a technological advancement that will improve everyone’s lives? Or is it a privacy issue we need to be concerned about?

Amazon Gets Surveillance Patent

That’s a lot of questions. So let’s backtrack for a moment and get our facts straight before we delve into the potential downsides of this situation.

Amazon has recently been given a patent from the Patent and Trademark Office. It’s for the use of drones for monitoring homes for security and safety.

Previously Amazon got approval from the FAA to begin delivering packages via drones.

The company says Prime Air delivery drones will carry packages from fulfillment centers to various locations. And that it will start in “a matter of months.”

Eye in the Sky for Homeowners

Amazon and other businesses, such as UPS and DHL Express, have been trying drone delivery technology for years now.

But sometime soon, Amazon’s unmanned aerial vehicles will also monitor homes where they make deliveries. They’ll look for open doors, fire, vandalism, etc.

Customers will pay a fee for this service. And will be notified via a text message or phone call if there is a problem at their homes.

The alert might also be sent to a security provider. Or a police or fire department. Or a dispatch operator.

More Data Gathering Ability

Amazon filed for this patent four years ago. They say the drones are for delivery first and surveillance second.

Here’s how part of the patent reads. “The delivery drones can be used to record video of consented users’ property to gather data that can be analyzed to look out, say for example, a broken window, or a fire or if a garage door was left open.”

Information gathering is nothing new for Amazon. Alexa allows Amazon employees to listen in on users’ conversations.

When customers use one of Amazon’s Ring goods, they are sacrificing that same privacy. These goods include security cameras, video doorbells and security systems. They send info through Amazon’s servers.

Amazon also markets its facial recognition tool (Rekognition) to law enforcement. Including police in Washington County, Oregon and Orlando, Florida.

Privacy Concerns Arise

Some people are concerned about the privacy problems that might arise. When a drone delivers a package to one house in a neighborhood, how do neighbors know they are not being spied on?

Jeff Ward is director of Duke University’s Center on Law and Technology. Here’s what he says about the situation.

“We don’t yet have a sense of the violation we might feel on account of the widespread use of drones.

“To protect the individual privacy that serves as an important backbone of our civil society, we should be sure that a much wider range of voices influences the decisions of our corporate boardrooms and public policy makers.”

Amazon Promises Surveillance Limits & Addresses Spying Complaints

Amazon answers privacy concerns this way. They say the surveillance function of their drones will be limited through geo-fencing.

This is a technology used to draw a digital perimeter or virtual boundary around the property under surveillance. Supposedly, any data or image captured by a drone outside of this geo-fence would be removed or at least obscured.

Amazon spokesperson John Tagle said this. “The surveillance data is modified in order to exclude, blur, obscure, excise, mask or hide data referring to the excluded location.”

He also added that Amazon takes privacy issues very seriously: “Some reports have suggested that this technology would spy or gather data on homes without authorization.

“To be clear, that’s not what the patent says. The patent clearly states that it would be an opt-in service available to customers who authorize monitoring of their home.”

What About Data Breaches

So, here are my questions about this whole thing. Amazon drones might limit their information gathering to customers who knowingly make it available. But what will Amazon do with that information?

Will they protect it? Or will they give it to the highest bidder who wants to know more about the people whose homes and property are under surveillance?

Amazon may agree not to sell this information. But who’s to say they won’t experience a data breach that accidentally makes the information available?

Amazon says they will use geo-fencing to avoid gaining data about neighbors who have not given their consent for surveillance. But what will prevent an error from occurring that will result in the inadvertent gathering of that info?

What do you think?

How do you feel about this problem? Should Amazon be allowed to conduct surveillance of a home if the owner requests it?

Or are there too many privacy concerns for those who live in surrounding houses?

Feel free to chime in with your thoughts. I’d love to hear what you think about this.

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