These Aren’t the Autonomous Drones You’re Looking for: Investigating Privacy Concerns Through Concept Videos

Privacy and Security and Innovation and Economic Growth

Article Snapshot


Deirdre Mulligan and Richmond Y. Wong


Journal of Human-Robot Interaction, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 26-54, 2016


Many regulators and researchers support the idea that the design and engineering of products and services should protect privacy. This paper describes how this trend affected Amazon’s presentation of its automated drone delivery service in concept videos.

Policy Relevance

Product designers can use concept videos to suggest how a product will protect privacy.

Main Points

  • As data-collection devices, drones raise serious privacy issues; many states have considered bills to stop drones from capturing data while flying over private property, and federal agencies have begun to formulate a regulatory regime for drones.
  • Amazon developed two concept videos in 2013 and 2015 to describe its future automated drone package delivery service; the second video suggests that Amazon was influenced by the “privacy by design” movement.
    • Neither video uses the word “privacy.”
    • The second video seemed designed to allay concerns that drones could capture images while traveling through the neighborhood, likening the drone to a helicopter or airplane.
    • The videos do not explain what stops the drone from capturing images of areas outside the landing site.
  • Concept videos are meant to be unfinished; they describe a technology and can present values and goals that will be embedded in the finished product, allowing people to ask further questions and air concerns about the technology, further informing the product designers.
  • In assessing concept videos, key questions include what limits and choices will be built in to the technology, how humans will interact with the technology, what is left out of the video, and how designers’ portrayal of the technology changes over time.
  • When Amazon’s drone delivery service comes to market, the concept videos will shape consumer expectations; producers should avoid making misleading statements in the videos, as the FTC or state privacy commissioners make take action based on such deceptive statements.
  • Firms can use concept videos to address regulators and other parties in discussions of how to design products to protect privacy.


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