Around the world, delivery drones are taking flight. In the U.S., this technological advancement is just a few regulatory steps away from becoming a full-scale reality. As the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continues to warm up to the idea of commercial drone delivery, American consumers, and U.S. homeowners in particular, could face the next tech privacy violation overhead.
Amazon, Walmart, UPS, and Alphabet are all currently test piloting, patenting, and lobbying for drone deliveries. But what happens when a delivery drone appears in your neighborhood?
As these unmanned aerial vehicles take delivery flight, they’ll also be recording photos and collecting data throughout neighborhoods across the country. Homeowners will have little say over whether a drone flies above their home airspace, and also can’t control the video and data these devices record as they zoom by.
Since commercial delivery drones are an all-but-certain reality, we surveyed 1,500 Americans to see how they felt about these unmanned aircrafts invading their neighborhoods.
Our findings revealed that:
Read on to learn more about our delivery drone survey, or jump to our infographic to learn how delivery drones work.
When drone deliveries are in flight, they’ll likely be recording photos or video as they fly overhead. These regular camera images and infrared cameras, like the ones built into the Amazon delivery drones, allow the drone to get a view of its surroundings. But what happens if a drone flies onto your property and snaps pictures of you and your children playing in the backyard?
According to our survey, 88% of Americans don’t think a neighbor’s drone delivery should be able to capture footage on their property — yet the FAA currently doesn’t have any regulations in place to restrict these actions. Similarly, a 2017 Pew Research survey also found that 54% of the population thinks flying drones near homes shouldn’t be allowed.
Some companies leading the drone delivery movement, such as Amazon, have already signaled that they’d like to use drone data for purposes beyond delivery. Amazon has a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a new patent called “Trigger agents in video streams for drones” that would use data collected from drone delivery to make future purchase recommendations.
Yet 83% of Americans don’t think companies should be able to use the data collected from drones to inform marketing or advertising.
Amazon’s patent would allow Prime Air drones to capture “trigger agents” in video streams through data grabbing sensors. The drone would scan, capture, and process data about a home to recommend products and services you may need. The idea is that if a drone flying overhead saw your property had paint chipping off the walls or a dead lawn, you could be served online ads for exterior paint or fertilizer.
While Amazon spokespeople have reassured the public that this would be an opt-in service only, the topic of whether companies should be able to record this footage from the sky in the first place remains up for debate.
If you think you own the airspace above your head, think again. While common law once held that landowners’ rights went “all the way to Heaven or Hell,” that view has since changed in every U.S. state outside of Montana.
This “gray area” between where private property ends and public air space begins will become central in the delivery drone debate as they begin to take mass commercial flight. The result will likely be a combination of FAA regulations and state laws. For now, messing with a drone — even if it’s flying over your property — is considered a federal crime, as drones are dubbed “aircraft” under U.S. law.
So where do delivery drones stand today? Wing Aviation, a company owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, is already test piloting with limited deliveries in a small Virginia town. UPS has been awarded the first commercial drone service, although it’s limited to medical supplies in rural areas. Amazon hopes to launch its Prime Air delivery service in the next few months, but will likely find a big competitor in major retailers like Walmart, which can use its network of stores to make quick deliveries.
To find out more about how drone deliveries take flight, check out our infographic below.
While there may not be a delivery drone buzzing around your neighborhood just yet, expect to see these devices fly out in the near future. As a homeowner, it’s important to be aware of new technology and both the benefits and risks associated with it.
Make sure to keep your home insurance policy updated to keep you and your family covered in the event of a security breach or other emergency. You can also keep up to date with your local laws and stay active in your HOA or neighborhood association so you can be involved in decisions that impact your home.
This study was conducted for The Zebra using Google Surveys. The sample consisted of no fewer than 1,500 completed responses per question. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population. This survey was conducted in February 2020.