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

Wong, R. Y., & Mulligan, D. K. (2016). These Aren’t the Autonomous Drones You’re Looking for: Investigating Privacy Concerns Through Concept Videos. Journal of Human-Robot Interaction, 5(3), 26-54.


Regulators and privacy advocates increasingly demand that privacy be protected through the technical design of products and services, as well as through organizational procedures and policies. Privacy research by computer scientists and engineers are producing insights and techniques that empower a new professional in the technology sector—the privacy engineer. Despite great enthusiasm for this approach, there has been little effort to explore if and how this new direction in privacy protection is influencing the design of products. Understanding how design is being used to protect privacy requires analysis of sociotechnical systems, not decontextualized technical artifacts. We analyze how privacy concerns in public policy debates about drones are raised and addressed in two concept videos from 2013 and 2015 developed by Amazon that depict fictional scenarios involving its future automated drone package delivery service. Drawing on design and communications methods we find that the concept videos reveal increased attention over time to privacy concerns. Our findings offer some evidence that privacy concerns are influencing Amazon’s product and service design. Representations about the service offered in the 2015 video shape consumer expectations about how it addresses privacy concerns. While the videos reviewed do not represent an existing product, we discuss the shifting role such concept videos might play when Amazon’s drone delivery service comes to market. As consumer facing representations of product functionality, concept videos, like other public statements, if misleading could form the basis of a deceptive statements claim by the Federal Trade Commission or state consumer protection agency. Finally, reflecting on our review, we suggest that concept videos are a useful tool for engaging regulators and other stakeholders in contextually specific considerations of when and how to enlist product and system design to protect privacy.

Last updated:

February 18, 2017