Delivery drones fly, but won’t spy

U.S. stakeholder come together to develop best practices for privacy, accountability, and transparency issues regarding commercial and private use of drones.

The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) brought privacy advocates together with technology, telecommunications, media and aerospace industry representatives, to finalize best practice guidelines for the use of drones last week, after more than a year in the making.

U.S. e-commerce marketplace ready for drones
Amazon’s announcement in 2014 of a potential drone-based delivery service called Amazon Prime Air has led retailers like Rakuten, Google, and others to consider drones. Meanwhile, a “Future of Retail” study conducted by Walker Sands Communications further reported 66% of the surveyed American consumers expect to receive first drone-delivered products within the next within the next five years. In addition 80% of those survey takers would pay for drone delivery, with 32% saying they would pay more than US$20.

But while retailers and consumers alike seem keen to utilize drone technology, several regulatory hurdles must first be cleared before that happens — not the least being how drones could impact personal privacy. Given drones are basically flying cameras there’s no shortage of eye-in-the-sky concerns as drone usage proliferates.

Privacy guidelines in place
The U.S. government has been doing just that, evaluating the use of drones and the regulations related to them. In February last year U.S. president Barak Obama asked the NTIA — an agency in the Commerce Department which advises on telecom policy issues — to bring various stakeholders together to help develop best practices to address privacy, transparency and accountability issues relating to private and commercial use of drones.

The NTIA has now released a new set of best practice guidelines on drones usage, with specific advice for companies, individuals and news organizations after a year of consultations with all three groups.

With respect to companies, the NTIA guidelines states companies should give people advance warning of the fact it intends to fly drones over their homes or place of work. It recommends companies provide approximate times and should inform people of the information it will be gathering and what it intends to do with that information. The guidelines further stress that companies should only gather information that is necessary, and that it should ensure secured data.

Just a first step in the process
However, as suggested by the word “guidelines”, these rules are not legally binding, but a recommendation. Nonetheless, they will serve as the foundation of a much broader effort by the U.S. government on how to regulate drone technology and assess its future impact on consumers and retailers.

In a statement Thursday, Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker indicated the best practices would help promote Department of Commerce priorities by allowing the drone industry "to grow, develop and innovate while helping to build consumer trust."

For its part, U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has also said it was aiming to finalize rules for the commercial operation of drones by late spring.

Tags: Regulatory environment, Drones

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