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Amazon patents ‘helpful’ surveillance delivery drones that totally don’t spy on your neighbors

Amazon patents ‘helpful’ surveillance delivery drones that totally don’t spy on your neighbors
Amazon has filed a patent for delivery drones that also surveil customers – for their own good, it claims, suggesting that a drone will inform people if there’s a fire or damage on their property but won’t snoop around.

Users who consent to the surveillance get a helpful eye in the sky to spot if they’ve left the garage door open, or if someone’s broken their window, or if burglars are walking off with all their newly delivered Amazon goodies (the latter isn’t mentioned in the patent filing, but would presumably fall within its purview). Users could even subscribe to the surveillance service as a high-tech alarm system, hiring their own airborne Big Brother to do daily perimeter sweeps while they’re on vacation, or check up on the kids while they’re at work. 

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Amazon claims its drones can be stopped from spying on non-consenting neighbors through geo-fencing, noting that “any image or data the drone captures outside the geo-fence would be obscured or removed,” but it stops short of explaining the mechanics of that removal. It doesn't explain whether the obscuring would be reversible, or whether the original unobscured images – like the millions of hours of Alexa background recording supposedly never archived but actually heard by thousands of humans – are actually saved somewhere, however temporarily, where they can be examined by a human or AI.

Amazon does grudgingly admit that filming a property might “possibly” require “consent of other people residing at that location,” and the patent seems to take into account the existence of multiple layers of possibly-contradictory local and federal laws concerning surveillance of private property and public property. The company filed the patent in 2015 and only received it on June 4, meaning at least a few of those laws have probably changed since it was drawn up. 

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The e-commerce giant hopes to begin delivering packages by drone in under 30 minutes within the next few months, though Amazon’s Prime Air drone – which boasts six axes of movement in comparison to the standard quadcopter’s four – only won an FAA testing license earlier this month, and is restricted under that certificate from serving customers. Indeed, while Amazon has been talking up drone delivery since 2013, it has never quite managed to get off the ground.

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