- Amazon has received a patent for drone technology that would perform what the company calls "surveillance as a service," the latest in a series of steps the company has taken to develop security and surveillance tools.
- The patent, which was filed in June 2015 and granted earlier this month, is for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV, or drone) that "may perform a surveillance action at a property of an authorized party." The patent covers still images, video, infrared imaging, thermal scanning, night-vision sensors and audio.
- According to the patent, homeowners could request one-time or regular surveillance of their property, with alerts for suspicious activity. The drones would monitor a geofenced area, and all data captured outside that area would be obscured.
Amazon already said it could start using its Prime Air Drone for deliveries within a few months, according to Amazon Consumer Products Head Jeff Wilke. There’s no guarantee that the "surveillance as a service" features will come to fruition, as companies patent plenty of technology that never reaches consumers.
The patent pitches the technology as a home security system, although the use of drones is likely to attract serious questions about how much the cameras and monitors are picking up.
Even if the drone network doesn’t take off, the patent illustrates Amazon's growing focus on surveillance tools. In 2018, Amazon purchased Ring, the "smart doorbell" company that takes video feeds to customers. Earlier this month, CNET reported that Amazon gave more than 50 police departments access to Ring footage. Ring also supports the controversial real-time safety network, Neighbors.
The company’s Echo and Alexa smart speaker devices have also come under fire for capturing recordings of users in their homes.
Most controversially, Amazon has marketed its facial recognition software, known as Rekognition, to law enforcement agencies around the country, with two high-profile trials in Orlando, FL. Two proposals that would have restrained the company’s use of Rekognition failed at a recent shareholder meeting, although lawmakers and public advocates have vowed more scrutiny over the technology.
Cities and governments have started pushing back against some surveillance technology. San Francisco passed a ban on government use of facial recognition technology; a push for a moratorium on the technology was recently introduced in the Massachusetts legislature. A drone-based surveillance system would likely face similar backlash, keeping Amazon squarely in the center of the debate over privacy and data security.