On the face of it Amazon’s plan to use unmanned drones to deliver online purchases sounds like a great business proposal. After all, which impulsive shopper wouldn’t want to save money making a purchase online whilst also receiving the product they bought within the hour? If Amazon could make the service – dubbed Amazon Prime Air – work well, and they aspire to do just that by 2015, then it would set new standards in the industry which its competition would have to match just to stand still.
Of course there are hurdles to be jumped before the first drone takes off with FAA approval being required before commercial licencing is given, but that may not prove to be the only barrier for Amazon to overcome.
Not everyone is impressed with the proposed new delivery method – US lawmakers have concerns of the privacy variety.
Democrat Senator Edward Markey, who appears to have a penchant for privacy matters, released a statement in response to Amazon’s announcement of the drone service in which he said,
“Before drones start delivering packages, we need the FAA to deliver privacy protections for the American public. Convenience should never trump constitutional protections.
Before our skies teem with commercial drones, clear rules must be set that protect the privacy and safety of the public.
My drone privacy legislation requires transparency on the domestic use of drones and adds privacy protections that ensure this technology cannot and will not be used to spy on Americans. I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues on this bipartisan issue to ensure that strong personal privacy protections and public transparency measures are put in place now.”
Across the other side of Congress, Republican Ted Poe also has similar concerns surrounding the use of drones by a large retail company. With Amazon saying that its drones could carry packages up to 5 kilos in weight, which represents around 90% of all of its deliveries, Poe wonders how full the skies may end up becoming: “Think of how many drones could soon be flying around the sky. Here a drone, there a drone, everywhere a drone in the United States.”
Poe’s concern does not lay with the number of drones taking up airspace though as he recognises that the FAA will have jurisdiction over that. He is concerned, however, with the potential for surveillance and the use of drones to seek out additional sales opportunities:
“The issue of concern, Mr. Speaker, is surveillance, not the delivery of packages. That includes surveillance of someone’s backyard, snooping around with a drone, checking out a person’s patio to see if that individual needs new patio furniture from the company.
Photographing swing sets, pool, or the people that are in the pools, or even looking into the windows, all of that could be done with the use of drones under corporate America or by individuals. This would all be possible. So Congress must ensure that the expanded use of drones in the coming years does not come at the expense of the individual rights to privacy.”
Poe concludes his letter to the Speaker by highlighting the fact that having the ability to do something with new technology doesn’t mean that it should simply be allowed.
Considering all the furore surrounding America (even though it is most definitely not alone in this) and the topic of surveillance right now it will be interesting to see whether the general populace will be happy to give up a little freedom in return for expedited deliveries. I suspect they will.