Wing, the drone delivery, sister company of Google, has a stern Remote ID warning in light of the final rule on Remote Identification for drones, which the Federal Aviation Administration issued at the end of December.
“The final rule, unlike existing international standards, does not allow the use of equally effective network remote ID, and requires all UAS, no matter the use case, to use “broadcast” RID,” Wing said in a prepared statement published to its site on Dec. 28. “This approach creates barriers to compliance and will have unintended negative privacy impacts for businesses and consumers.”
In the post, Wing issued a Remote ID warning, suggesting that requiring drones to broadcast their location might let observers track your movements. Observers might be able to figure out where everyday people go, spend time, live, where you receive packages from and when.
“American communities would not accept this type of surveillance of their deliveries or taxi trips on the road,” according to Wing’s statement. “They should not accept it in the sky.”
It’s a problem almost unique to drones.
“While an observer tracking an airplane can’t infer much about the individuals or cargo onboard, an observer tracking a drone can infer sensitive information about specific users,” Wing said.
For its part, the FAA has said it believes the final Remote ID rule address safety, security and privacy concerns.
Remote ID and privacy: who has access to your data? Anyone with a personal wireless device within range of the broadcast will have access to most of the information transmitted from the drone. What most people won’t have access to is the correlating the serial number or session ID with the registration database. That information will be limited to the FAA and can be made available to authorized law enforcement and national security personnel upon request.
Wing’s suggestion for improving Remote ID: The most interesting part of Wing’s whole stance is that the Google-sister company actually isn’t against Remote ID completely.
“Remote identification (RID) is a crucial technology that can provide the identity and location of a drone, validate transparent and safe operations for governments, law enforcement, community members and operators alike,” Wing admitted.
Instead, Wing’s remote ID warning calls for “network” technologies for Remote ID that it says can protect sensitive customer information.
“This method of RID leverages the internet — the most ubiquitous technological tool of our time — to share a drone’s location and identity information, like a license plate number, with anyone who has access to a cell phone or web browser,” Wing said. “This allows a drone to be identified as it flies over without necessarily sharing that drone’s complete flight path or flight history, and that information, which can be more sensitive, is not displayed to the public and only available to law enforcement if they have proper credentials and a reason to need that information.”
Of course, the irony is not lost on the fact that Google is currently in the midst of its third major antitrust lawsuit. The subject of this one? Google is abusing its power and has a monopoly over the internet, in ways that harm competitors and consumers.
Other companies calling for a network-based approach similar to the one that Google is pushing for include OneSky, which makes digital traffic management software and has been involved in UTM for about five years.
“By only mandating broadcast technology – as opposed to a broadcast and and network capability implementation – the rule focuses almost entirely on the safety case, rather than safety and efficiency, scalability, airspace accessibility,” said Bob Hammett, CEO of OneSky, in a prepared statement.
However, most people likely would not stand for a network-based approach. And even the FAA outright rejected it after receiving thousands of public comments to their initial drone remote ID proposal.
Many of the most vocal opponents were specifically concerned about needing to fly with some sort of internet-based tracking connection, especially because many drone flights occur in remote and rural areas where connections are limited.
Unfortunately, some rural areas don’t have adequate cell service, which means I could not be able to fly,” Thomas Atwood, Executive Director, The National Robotics Education Foundation and Director of AUVSI’s Florida Peninsula Chapter, said in a public comment submitted earlier this year. “Rural locations are frequently the safest places to fly because they are away from people, other aircraft and structures.”
Other issues with internet-based tracking could include costs of cell service with the drone and the adding possibility of a network data breach. Customers would likely have to pay fees to service providers, which could quickly make drones prohibitively expensive.
What’s more: Wing initially came out against the Remote ID proposal in 2020 as well, but obviously for a different reason.
“The proposed rule will make it nearly impossible for everyday hobbyists to share the skies,” according to an open letter from Wing to the FAA in September 2020. “They will need to incorporate highly automated equipment into home-built models and implement manufacturing processes comparable to a commercial aircraft. These requirements are infeasible for hobbyists who experiment in their garage, buy material at the local hardware store, and fly in their backyard or the local park.”
Many other big drone industry players have also weighed in on Remote ID, with mixed responses. DJI’s response said basically nothing, while big UTM companies like OneSky are loudly embracing it.