Tech

Google Wing warns new drone laws may impact user privacy

In the last week, the US government made the single biggest set of changes to drone law. This new ruling that almost every drone in US airspace will need to broadcast their locations, as well as the location of their pilots, to address safety, national security, and law enforcement concerns.

Google and its parent company Alphabet are not very happy about the new rules. The company’s drone delivery subsidiary Wing wrote a post via Reuters titled – Broadcast-Only Remote Identification of Drones May Have Unintended Consequences for American Consumers. The post states that the FAA’s decision to have drones broadcast their location might let observers track your movements, figuring out where you go, where you live, and where and when you receive packages, among other examples.

Wing makes an argument, “American communities would not accept this type of surveillance of their deliveries on the road. They will not likely accept it in the sky also.”

Wing is not arguing that drones shouldn’t broadcast their location. It just wishes they’d send it through the internet instead of broadcasting it locally.

Internet-based tracking is what FAA had initially intended to do when it first proposed the Remote ID rules in December 2019. Here are just a few mentioned:

  • The expenses of adding a cellular modem to a drone
  • The monthly expenses cellular data plan to fly a drone
  • The lack of cellular coverage across the US
  • The cost of paying a third-party data broker to track data
  • The possibility of third-party data broker getting breached
  • The possibility of that data broker or network getting grounding drones in the US

Though it seems ridiculous that everyone has to broadcast their location to everyone within earshot and everyone has to pay money to private industry and trust some data broker with their location.

Supporters of Remote ID technology like Wing, say that it’s merely a sky license plate. Wing states, “This allows a drone to be identified as it flies over without sharing that drone’s complete flight path or history, and information, which is more sensitive, is not displayed to the public.”

But the thing about license plates is users need to be within eyeshot to see them. That’s not necessarily true of a broadcasting transmitter, and it’s potentially far less true of an internet-based solution like the one Wing wished the FAA had offered instead. It completely depends on who owns the internet-based solution and how much you trust them and their security.

It will take a while before we know how secure or vulnerable these Remote ID broadcasts are truly going to be. This is because the FAA’s final rule doesn’t actually dictate what kind of broadcasting tech drones will be required to use. Companies have time, about a year and a half or more, to figure out that. They will even have to submit details to the FAA for approval. Even the FAA is also clear that broadcast Remote ID is just an initial step, suggesting that the

internet-based Remote ID might still be an option in the future.

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