About 11% of drone pilots don’t think their data is safe with their drone service supplier. And 18% don’t think their data is safe with the FAA. That’s at least according to the results of one survey, conducted by Aloft (the company formerly known as Kittyhawk) in July 2021.
The survey, which received more than 200 responses, asked users to rate whether they felt their drone service supplier kept their data safe. 12.4% responded “strongly agree,” 33.2% responded “agree” and 42.9% responded “neutral,” for a total of 89% of respondents saying that they were either neutral or strongly agreed that they felt their drone data was safe.
But that leaves roughly 11% who don’t necessarily feel their data is safe.
UAS service suppliers are companies approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to provide LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability) services. LAANC is what allows drone pilots to get near-instant approval to access controlled airspace at or below 400 feet. The FAA’s approved service suppliers including Airbus, AirMap, Skyward (which is owned by Verizon), Wing (which is affiliated with Google) and Aloft, which is the company that conducted the aforementioned study. Aloft is the largest UTM network of airspace users and stakeholders, and is behind more than 50% of all LAANC airspace authorizations (that’s the primary system drone pilots need to go through to legally fly in controlled airspace). Aloft is also the company that powers the FAA’s B4UFLY app.
Still, Aloft said it feels that having nearly 89% of respondents either neutrally or in agreement that their data is secure is a promising sign.
“Data security and general information safety is paramount for the continued success and growth of the drone industry,” according to a statement from Aloft. For this reason, we are constantly working to improve and strengthen our platforms’ security and interested in what type of security improvements our user’s need for their drone programs.”
The numbers look worse when it comes to the Federal Aviation Administration keeping data and information secure. While 82% of respondents were either neutral or agreed that the FAA kept data secure, that leaves 14.6% who “disagreed” and 3.1% who “strongly disagreed” that the FAA would keep their data and information secure. That’s a total of 18%.
Conversely, 82% of respondents answered they were neutral to strongly agreed that they trust the FAA to keep their shared data and information secure.
For what it’s worth, that means more than 80% of drone pilots feel their data is secure either in the hands of the FAA or their service supplier.
How drone data collection compares to broader privacy concerns
Sure, 18% of drone pilots aren’t confident in the FAA’s ability to keep their data safe, and 11% don’t necessarily feel their data is safe with UAS service suppliers. But that’s a far higher figure than the general American attitude toward data and tech in general.
Contrast that with the number of Americans who report being concerned about the way their data is being used by companies (79%) or the government (64%), according to a 2019 survey of U.S. adults by Pew Research Center. During that survey, 79% of Americans said they are not too or not at all confident that companies will admit mistakes and take responsibility if they misuse or compromise personal information, and 69% reported having this same lack of confidence that firms will use their personal information in ways they will be comfortable with.
And generally speaking, American confidence in data security consistently is dropping. The same Pew study asked whether they think their personal data is less secure, more secure or about the same as it was five years ago. 70% of adults say their personal data is less secure, suggesting a collective sentiment that data security is more elusive today than in the past.
So in that regard, it’s promising that drone-specific concerns are low. That’s especially given a common concern in the drone industry about how some companies (particularly Chinese-based companies) might be handling data. That sentiment largely kicked off in 2017 when the U.S. Army prohibited its troops from using DJI drones because of cyber-security concerns. Following that, the Trump administration explored an executive order that would ban all federal departments and agencies from buying or using foreign-made drones over data privacy concerns.
Most data concerns have to do with Chinese drones
When it comes to concerns over data collection in the drone industry, it does seem that most concerns are concentrated on data collection by foreign companies and governments, not the FAA or U.S.-based companies, In a separate survey by Droneresponders about alleged security vulnerabilities surrounding Chinese drone technology, 56% of of public safety remote pilots indicated that they were either “somewhat” or “extremely” concerned about potential security vulnerabilities such as Chinese “spyware.”
Though, DJI has also fought back against what it’s calling “fear-mongering,” suggesting that those sentiments will lead to “egregious drone security proposals.”
“Will myths and fears about drone data security – pushed not only by politicians with an agenda but companies that hope to capitalize on fear – will they drive extreme and irrational policy outcomes that stop you from doing good things with drones?” said DJI Vice President of Policy & Legal Affairs Brendan Schulman at the company’s 2020 AirWorks conference. “Will the drone industry turn on itself by throwing fuel on a fire that can burn all of us, ultimately leaving you with fewer and more expensive options? If nothing changes, fear-based policy is going to cost you money, make it more complicated to fly, and delay your ability to fly in expanded operations.”