Post-Dobbs: A Whole New World of Privacy Law

By: Enny Olaleye

Last summer, The United States was rocked by the U.S. Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a landmark decision striking down the right to abortion, thereby overruling both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In its wake, the Dobbs decision left many questioning whether their most sensitive information—information relating to their reproductive health care—would remain private. Dobbs set in motion a web of state laws which make having, providing, or aiding and abetting the provision of abortion a criminal offense, and many now fear that enforcing those laws will require data tracking. Private groups and state agencies ranging from the health tech sector to hospitality industries may be asked to turn over data as a form of cooperation or a part of their prosecution of these new crimes. 

Thus, the question arises: Exactly how much of my information is actually private?

When determining one’s respective right to privacy, it is important to consider what “privacy” actually is. Ultimately, the scope of privacy is wide-ranging. Some may consider the term by its literal definition, where privacy is the quality or state of being apart from company or observation. Alternatively, some may conceptualize privacy a bit further and view privacy as 

a dignitary right focused on knowledge someone may or may not possess about a person. Others may not view privacy by its definition at all, but rather cement their views in the belief that a person’s private information should be free from public scrutiny and that all people have a right to be left alone. 

Regardless of one’s opinions on privacy, it is important to understand that, with respect to the U.S Constitution, you have no explicitly recognized right to privacy. 

How could that be possible?  Some may point to the First Amendment, which preserves a person’s rights of speech and assembly or perhaps the Fourth Amendment, which restricts the government’s intrusion into people’s private property and belongings. However, these amendments focus more on a specific right to privacy with respect to freedom and liberty, with the goal of limiting government interference. They do not constitute an explicit, overarching constitutional right to privacy. While the right to privacy is not specifically listed in the Constitution, the Supreme Court has recognized it as an outgrowth of protections for individual liberty. 

In Griswold v, Connecticut, the Supreme Court concluded that people have privacy rights that prevent the government from forbidding married couples from using contraception. Such a ruling first identified people’s right to independently control the most personal aspects of their lives—thus creating an implicit right to privacy. Later, the Court extended this right of privacy to include a woman’s right to have an abortion in Roe v Wade, holding that “the right of decisional privacy is based in the Constitution’s assurance that people cannot be ‘deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.’” The Roe decision was largely made by the notion that the 14th Amendment contains an implicit right to privacy, as well as protects against state interference in a person’s private decisions more generally. However, the Dobbs ruling has now dismissed this precedent, with the implicit right of privacy no longer extending to abortion. With a 6-3 majority, the Court reasoned that abortion lacked due process protection, as it was not mentioned in the Constitution and was outlawed in many states at the time of the Roe decision. 

Fast forward to today—some government entities have attempted to make progress in preserving an individual’s privacy, particularly in relation to their healthcare. The Biden administration released an executive order aimed at protecting access to abortion and treatment for pregnancy complications. Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission has started to implement federal privacy rules for consumer data, citing “a need to protect people’s right to seek healthcare information.” However, most of this progress centers on a misconception that “privacy” and “data protection” are the same thing. 

So, let’s set the record straight: privacy and data protection are not the same thing. 

While data protection does stem from the right to privacy, it mainly focuses on ensuring that data has been fairly processed. With the concept of privacy constantly being intertwined with freedom and liberty over the past few decades, it can be difficult for people to fully grasp which exactly of their information is private. The Dobbs majority pointed out a distinction between privacy and liberty, citing that “as to precedent, citing a broad array of cases, the Court found support for a constitutional ‘right of personal privacy.’ But Roe conflated the right to shield information from disclosure and to make and implement important personal decisions without governmental interference.” 

There is a valid concern that personal information, ranging from instant messages and location history to third-party app usage and digital records, can end up being subpoenaed or sold to law enforcement. In response to the Dobbs decision, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a guidance that unless a state law “expressly requires” reporting on certain health conditions, the HIPAA exemption for disclosure to law enforcement would not apply. However, some people may not realize that the application privacy agreements and HIPAA medical privacy rules are not automatically protected against subpoenas. Wholeheartedly, data brokers will not hesitate to sell to the highest bidder any and all personal information they have access to. 

“So now what?” 


Ultimately, the Dobbs decision serves as a rather harsh reminder of just how valuable our privacy is, and what can happen if we lose it. As some of us have already realized, companies, governments, and even our peers are incredibly interested in our private lives. With respect to protecting reproductive freedom, it is imperative to establish federal privacy laws that protect information related to health care from being handed over to law enforcement unless doing so is absolutely necessary to avert substantial public harm. While it is unfortunate that individuals are placed in positions where they are solely responsible for protecting themselves against corporate or governmental surveillance, it is imperative for everyone to remain vigilant and aware of where their information is going.

Apple AirTags – Stalking made easy in the age of convenience

By: Kayleigh McNiel

Marketed as a means of locating lost or stolen items, Apple AirTags are a convenient and affordable tool for tracking down your lost keys, misplaced luggage, and even your ex-partner. Weighing less than half an ounce, these small tracking devices fit in the palm of your hand and can be easily hidden inside backpacks, purses, and vehicles without arousing the owner’s suspicion. 

Reports of AirTag stalking began emerging almost immediately upon their release in April of 2021. Apple’s assurances that AirTag’s built-in abuse prevention features would protect against “unwanted tracking” have fallen woefully short of the reality that these $29 devices are increasingly being used to monitor, surveil and stalk women across the country.

The Wrong Tool in the Wrong Hands – Women Are Being Targeted with AirTags

Through an expansive review of 150 police reports involving Apple AirTags from eight law enforcement agencies across the nation, an investigative report by Motherboard confirmed the disturbing truth. One third of the reports were filed by women who received notifications that they were being tracked by someone else’s AirTag. The majority of these cases involved women being stalked by a current or former partner. Of the 150 reports reviewed by Motherboard, less than half involved people using their own AirTags to find their lost or stolen property.   

AirTags pose a significant danger to victims of domestic violence and have been used in at least two grisly murders. In January 2022, Heidi Moon, a 43-year-old mother from Akron, Ohio, was shot and killed by her abusive ex-boyfriend who tracked her movements using an AirTag hidden in the back seat of her car. In June 2022, Andre Smith, a 26-year-old Indianapolis man, died after he was repeatedly run over by his girlfriend after she found him at a bar with another woman by tracking him with an AirTag.

It’s not just domestic violence victims who are in danger. Stories are emerging on social media of women discovering AirTags under their license plate covers or receiving notifications that they are being tracked after traveling in public places. One woman’s viral TikTok describes how she received repeated notifications that an unknown device was tracking her after visiting a Walmart in Texas. Unable to locate the device, she tried unsuccessfully to disable it, and continued receiving notifications even after she turned off the location services and Bluetooth on all of her Apple devices.   

In January 2022, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model Book Nader discovered that a stranger slipped an Apple AirTag into her coat pocket while she was sitting in a restaurant. The device tracked her location for hours before the built-in safety mechanism triggered a notification sent to her phone. 

One Georgia woman, Anna Mahaney, began receiving the alerts after going to a shopping mall but was unable to locate the tracker. When she tried to disable the device, she received an error message that it was unable to connect to the server. She immediately went to an Apple Store for help and was told that no beep sounded because the owner of the AirTag had apparently tracked her until she got home and then disabled it

Apple’s haphazard release of these button-sized trackers, with near complete disregard for the danger they pose to the public, has resulted in a recent federal class action lawsuit filed by two California women who were stalked by men using AirTags. One plaintiff, identified only as Jane Doe, was tracked by her ex-husband who hid an AirTag in their child’s backpack. The other plaintiff, Lauren Hughes, fled her home and moved into a hotel after being stalked and threatened by a man she dated for only three months. After she began receiving notifications that an AirTag was tracking her, Hughes found one in the wheel well of her back tire. 

The plaintiffs in Hughes et al v. Apple, Inc., 3:22-cv-07668, say Apple ignored the warnings from advocates and put the safety of consumers and the general public at risk by “revolutionizing the scope, breadth, and ease of location-based stalking.” 

The Tech Behind the Tags – Insufficient Safety Warnings and a Lack of Prevention

AirTags work by establishing a Bluetooth connection with nearby Apple devices. Once connected, it uses that device’s GPS and internet connection to transmit the AirTag’s location to the iCloud where users can track it via the Find My app. With a vast network of more than 1.8 billion Apple devices worldwide, AirTags can essentially track anyone, anywhere.  

While the accuracy of Bluetooth tracking can vary, newer iPhone devices (models 11 and up) come equipped with ultra-wide broadband technology that allows AirTag owners to use Precision Tracking to get within feet of its location

In its initial release in April 2021, Apple included minimal safety measures including alerts that inform iPhone users if someone else’s AirTag had been traveling with them.Additionally, AirTags chime if separated from its owner after three days. 

When someone discovers an AirTag and taps it with their iPhone, it tells them only the information the owner allows. If an AirTag has been separated from its owner for somewhere between eight and twenty-four hours, it begins chirping regularly. By then, the AirTag owner may have already been able to track their target for hours, learning where they live, work, or go to school. The chirp is only about 60 decibels which is the average sound level of a restaurant or office. This sound is easy to muffle especially if the AirTag is hidden under a car license plate or in a wheel well. This quiet alarm is the only automatic protection against stalking Apple can provide to those who do not have an iPhone. 

Apple did eventually release an app that Android users can download to scan for rogue AirTags, but it requires Android users to know about AirTag tracking and then manually scan for the devices. With only 2.4 stars, many complain that it is ineffective and does not provide enough information.  

In response to the wave of criticism and reports of stalking and harassment, Apple has begun to increase these safety measures in piecemeal updates, which so far have failed to resolve the problem. Just three months after its release, Apple shortened the amount of time it takes for AirTags to chime if separated from its owner; from three days to somewhere between eight and twenty-four hours. But it’s easy to register an AirTag, and then disable it before the target begins receiving notifications.

Our Legal Systems Are Not Prepared to Protect Victims From AirTag Stalking.

Our criminal and civil legal systems are painfully slow to respond to the way technology has changed the way we engage with our families and communities and how we experience harm in those relationships. One of the biggest challenges victims face in reporting AirTag stalking is that many police departments and Courts do not even know what AirTags are or how they can be used to harass and stalk women.

In some states, it is not even a crime to monitor someone’s movements with a tracking device like an AirTag without their knowledge or consent. At least 26 states and the District of Columbia have some kind of law prohibiting the tracking of others without their knowledge. While 11 of these states, including Washington, incorporate this into their stalking statutes, nine others (Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin) only prohibit the use of location-tracking devices on motor vehicles without the owner’s consent. These state laws do nothing to protect against AirTags being placed in your bag or purse. These laws also don’t protect those who share a vehicle with their abuser, since the other party is also technically the owner of the vehicle. 

Many states are rapidly seeing the need to beef up their laws in response to AirTags. The Attorneys General of both New York and Pennsylvania have issued consumer protection alerts warning people about the dangers of AirTags. But much more needs to be done.

The fact that Apple released this product without considering the disproportionate impact it would have on the safety of women across the globe shows a clear lack of diversity in Apple’s design and manufacturing process. 

Navigating the Dark Forest: Data Breach in the Post-Information Age

By: Charles Simon

In 1984, the credit histories of ninety million people were exposed by theft of a numerical passcode. The code was meant to be dialed through a “teletype credit terminal” located in a Sears department store. The stolen password was posted online to a bulletin board where it existed for “at least a month” before the security breach was even noticed. The New York Times helpfully informed readers that such bulletin boards were “computer file[s] accessible to subscribers by phone.” How did the anonymous hacker crack this code? Well, the password had been handwritten onto a notepad and left in a public space by a Sears employee who found the digits too troublesome to memorize.

Interestingly, while a legal commentator from the ABA had theories about the likely legal harms to consumers and possible liability faced by the credit reporting agency from the hack, simply obtaining unauthorized access to a confidential information system wasn’t yet a crime on its own terms. Legal recourse against the hacker, had they had ever been caught, would have been uncertain given that no mail-order purchases were shown to use consumer data from the Sears/TRW system breach. Two years later, Congress would amend existing law to create the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 formalizing the legal harm of cybersecurity breaches, but during this period hacking was generally still considered a hobbyist’s prank.

We’ve come a long way since that time. In 2020, a study funded by IBM Security estimated that the “average cost” of a data breach was $3.86 million. That number is inflated by the largest breaches, but limiting our inquiry to ‘just’ the $178,000 average figure suffered by small- and medium-sized company breaches shows that even smaller hacks can be crippling to business. Breaches of information today can result in serious physical consequences like the loss of industrial controls which govern power grids and automated factories. The healthcare system’s volumes of sensitive patient information make hospitals, insurance providers, and non-profits in the industry extremely attractive targets. Law firms are prime targets for data breach, with sensitive client personal information and litigation documents making for a lucrative prize.

Since 2015, Washington state’s data breach notification laws have required businesses, individuals, and public agencies to notify any resident who is “at risk of harm” because of a breach of personal information. This requirement of notice to customers or citizens affected by an organization’s data breach is mostly accepted among states, but as with other privacy-related rights in the US legal system, there is a patchy history of vindicating plaintiff rights under such laws. 

The ruling on a motion to dismiss in a breach of the Target corporate customer database shows a shift in attitudes towards recognizing concrete harms. A broad class of plaintiffs from across the US drew from a patchwork of state notice laws—some of them lacking direct consumer protection provisions or private rights of action under their state law—to argue that Target’s failure to provide prompt notice of the theft of financial data caused harms. What might have once been considered shaky legal ground for a consumer class action claim proved stable enough for a Minnesota federal court to reject the motion to dismiss. The resulting settlement with 47 state attorneys general was a record-setting milestone in cybersecurity business liability.Prompt notice to those affected by a data breach alone is not enough. Many modern statutes now implement standards of care for data security, and may soon begin standardizing other features such as retention and collection limitations (perhaps taking cues from the EU’s General Data Privacy Regulation). Legal scrutiny is certain to intensify as the financial harms—and less tangible harms to the increasingly-online lives—of citizens mount. The proliferation of cyber liability insurance indicates that many businesses see an inevitability to this field of litigation, which is sure to cause development of the law. In this environment, public and private sector lawyers in a broad array of fields must be cognizant of the legal harms that can arise, their organization’s recourses, and the state and federal law they operate under.

Two New Antitrust Bills Could Increase App Store Competition and Spark Discussion of Privacy and Security as Consumer Welfare Metrics

By: Zoe Wood

In the first quarter of 2022, Apple beat its own record for quarterly spending on lobbying ($2.5 million). What’s the occasion? Two new antitrust bills which threaten Apple’s dominance over its App Store are gaining ground in Congress.

What Bills? 

In late January, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance the American Innovation and Choice Online Act by a vote of 16 to 6. Just a few weeks later, the Committee advanced the Open App Markets Act by a vote of 20 to 2. 

The bills are similar, however, the former has more sweeping coverage. It applies to all “online platforms” with 50,000,000 or more monthly active US-based individual users or 100,000 monthly active US-based business users which (1) enable content generation and content viewing and interaction (i.e., Instagram, Twitter, Spotify, etc.), (2) facilitate online advertising or sales of products or services of any sort (i.e., Amazon, etc.), or (3) enable searches that “access or display a large volume of information” (i.e., Google, etc.). The bill describes ten categories of prohibited conduct, all aimed at curbing covered platforms’ preferential treatment of their own products or services over other products on the platform. 

For example, the Act would prohibit “covered platforms” from “limit[ing] the ability of the products, services, or lines of business of another business user to compete on the covered platform relative to the products, services, or lines of business of the covered platform operator in a manner that would materially harm competition.” 

The latter act, the Open App Markets Act, in contrast would apply to “any person that owns or controls an app store” with over 50,000,000 US-based users. It proceeds by identifying and defining app store behaviors which are purportedly anticompetitive. For example, the Act would prohibit an app store from conditioning distribution of an app on its use of store-controlled payment systems as the in-app payment system. The Act would also prohibit app stores from requiring developers to offer apps on pricing terms equal to or more favorable than those on other app stores and from punishing a developer for doing so. Similar to the Innovation and Choice Online Act, the Open App Markets Act prohibits covered app stores from preferential treatment towards their own products in the app store search function.

Why Does Apple Oppose These Bills (Aside from the Obvious)? 

While the obvious answer (the bills would diminish Apple’s dominance and therefore diminish its profit) is probably also correct, Apple has put forward a different reason for its opposition to the acts. In a January 18th letter addressed to Senators Durbin, Grassley, Klobuchar, and Lee, and signed by Apple’s Senior Director of Government Affairs Timothy Powderly, Apple expressed concern that “[t]hese bills will reward those who have been irresponsible with users’ data and empower bad actors who would target consumers with malware, ransomware, and scams.”

The bills create an exception for otherwise prohibited actions which are “reasonably necessary” to protect safety, user privacy, security of nonpublic data, or the security of the covered platform. Apple’s letter principally takes issue with this exception, finding that it does not provide the company with enough leeway to innovate around privacy and security. The letter complains that “to introduce new and enhanced privacy or security protections under the bills, Apple would have to prove the protections were ‘necessary,’ ‘narrowly tailored,’ and that no less restrictive protections were available.” According to the letter, “[t]his is a nearly insurmountable test, especially when applied after-the-fact as an affirmative defense.” Of course, this is an overly broad statement­. The bills don’t subject all new privacy and security measures to this standard. Only the measures that are anticompetitive in the ways specifically spelled out by the bills are implicated. 

So what privacy and security measures would the bills prohibit? The letter is most concerned with the fact that the bills would restrain Apple from prohibiting “sideloading.” Sideloading refers to downloading an application onto, in this case, an Apple device, from somewhere other than the App Store. Lifting Apple’s restriction on the practice would allow developers to implement their own in-app payment systems and avoid the commission Apple takes (up to 30%) from app sales and in-app subscriptions and purchases. The theory is that prohibiting sideloading is anticompetitive in part because it results in higher prices for consumers. 

But Apple says that allowing sideloading would “put consumers in harm’s way because of the real risk of privacy and security breaches” sideloading causes. The letter further explains that sideloading allows developers to “circumvent[….] the privacy and security protections Apple has designed, including human review of every app and every app update.”

Are Apple’s Security Concerns Shared by All?

No. Privacy and security expert Bruce Schneier, who sits on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and runs the security architecture at a data management company, wrote a rebuttal to Apple’s letter. According to Schneier, “[i]t’s simply not true that this legislation puts user privacy and security at risk” because “App stores monopolies cannot protect users from every risk, and they frequently prevent the distribution of important tools that actually enhance security.” Schneier thinks that “the alleged risks of third-party app stores and ‘sideloading’ apps pale in comparison to their benefits,” among them “encourag[ing] competition, prevent[ing] monopolist extortion, and guarantee[ing] users a new right to digital self-determination.”

Matt Stoller, who is the Director of Research at the American Economic Liberties Project, also wrote a strongly worded rebuttal. Like Schneier, Stoller seems to believe that Apple’s­ security-centric opposition to the bills is disingenuous. 

A New Angle on Consumer Welfare

Regardless of whether Apple’s concerns about privacy and security are overblown, the exchange between Apple, the drafters of the new antitrust bills, and members of the public is interesting because it engages with “consumer welfare”­–the entrenched legal standard which drives antitrust law­–in an atypical way.

Antitrust law exists primarily in common law, and the common law is the origin of the all-important consumer welfare standard. The standard is simple and has remained consistent since a seminal case from 1977. It is concerned primarily with whether a particular practice tends to decrease output and/or causes price to increase for consumers. If it does, the practice is anticompetitive and subject to injunction. While antitrust parties occasionally introduce other aspects of consumer welfare­­, such as the effects on innovation of a challenged practice, such effects are extremely difficult to prove in court. Therefore, most antitrust cases turn on price and output.

The bills in question implicitly take issue with the consumer welfare standard because they, in the language of the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, “provide that certain discriminatory conduct by covered platforms shall be unlawful.” Similarly, the Open App Markets Act seeks to “promote competition and reduce gatekeeper power in the app economy, increase choice, improve quality, and reduce costs for consumers.” By defining and prohibiting specific conduct outright, the bills circumvent the consumer welfare standard’s narrow focus on price and output and save potential antitrust plaintiffs from having to prove in court that Apple’s practices decrease output or increase price. 

Apple’s letter speaks the language of consumer welfare. It insists that “Apple offers consumers the choice of a platform protected from malicious and dangerous code. The bills eliminate that choice.” This point goes to the more traditional conception of consumer welfare in the antitrust context, i.e., proliferation of choice available to consumers. But primarily, the argument that Apple is making (however disingenuously) is that the bills “should be modified to strengthen­–not weaken–consumer welfare, especially with regard to consumer protection in the areas of privacy and security.” 

By focusing on “privacy and security” as a metric of consumer welfare in the antitrust context, Apple, legislators, and the general public are engaging in a conversation that ultimately expands the notion of consumer welfare beyond what would be borne out in a courtroom, constrained by entrenched antitrust precedent. In this way, the bills have already been productive. 

“Grounded”: Amazon’s Delayed Promise of Aerial Package Delivery

By: Justin Cooper

In late 2013, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos made a surprise announcement on a segment of 60 Minutes: Amazon was developing small aerial drones capable of delivering packages directly to customers’ doorsteps. He stated that the drones would be used to make speedy thirty-minute deliveries from Amazon fulfillment centers, would have a range of over ten miles, and could carry packages weighing up to five pounds. At that time, he also claimed that the widespread use of drones was at least four to five years away. Nine years later, however, “Amazon Prime Air” is still grounded largely because Amazon’s rollout of delivery drones has faced multiple technical challenges which continue to push back the program’s launch. Although the clearance of FAA regulatory hurdles briefly kindled hope that the program was back on track in 2020, concerns about the privacy and safety of Amazon Prime Air, coupled with the possibility of state and municipal challenges to the program’s rollout, could keep Amazon’s delivery drones grounded well into the future.

During the first few years after Bezos’ announcement, research and development of Amazon Prime Air services seemed to be moving at a steady pace. However, in 2015 the program hit its first snag when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which establishes airworthiness criteria to ensure the safe operation of aircraft in accordance with 49 U.S.C. 44701(a) and 44704, published its widely anticipated rules governing “Unmanned Aerial Systems.” Notably, the FAA refused to green light the use of drones for commercial delivery. Amazon responded with a letter to the FAA “threatening to test the drones abroad if the FAA continued to refuse to let it test the machines outdoors in the United States.” The FAA consequently granted Amazon the ability to conduct limited domestic testing, requiring that drone test flights take place under 400 feet and remain in sight of the pilot and observer. Meanwhile, Amazon continued the development of its drones in the United Kingdom, celebrating its first successful commercial delivery in 2016. Amazon Prime Air’s United Kingdom operation seemed to be advancing even more quickly when “UK regulators…fast-tracked approvals for drone testing.” This fast-tracking “made the country an ideal testbed for drone flights and paved the way for Amazon to gain regulatory approval elsewhere.” However, behind the scenes, Amazon’s program was dealing with major problems, including staff layoffs, redundancies, and reports of mismanagement, including reports of employee drunkenness while on the job

During all of this, and back in the United States, Amazon Prime Air was making slow progress. In 2019, Amazon petitioned the FAA to allow it to begin wide-scale testing of its drones, and a year later the company announced it had received approval from the FAA to begin testing commercial deliveries. Despite this victory, however, Amazon Prime Air has continued to face significant issues that cast doubt on the program’s safety, and an investigative report conducted by Bloomberg News has recently revealed multiple Amazon drone crashes, as well as accounts of a management culture more focused on speed than safety.

This focus on speed likely stems from the fact that Amazon has fallen behind its rivals in the drone delivery space. In August 2021, Alphabet Inc.’s program, Wing, announced that it had successfully made its hundred thousandth delivery in Australia. Wing’s drone deliveries are also automated, “but monitored by pilots who function more as air traffic controllers.” A notable difference from Amazon’s drones is that Wing packages “are dropped in front of homes using a winch”, while Amazon’s drones land to deliver their packages. In addition to Wing, UPS has also successfully tested the use of delivery drones in innovative ways. For example, UPS has tested launching drones from its delivery trucks, which allows a delivery driver to cover large rural areas in a much more efficient manner. 

Aside from the technical and production challenges that have slowed the rollout of Amazon Prime Air, Amazon will likely face continued challenges due to significant privacy concerns. According to CNBC, “detecting telephone wires, people, property and even small animals on the ground all require careful sensing and collision avoidance systems.” In addition to the multiple cameras needed to navigate these obstacles, Amazon “is investing heavily in artificial intelligence to help drones navigate safely to their destinations, and drop off packages safely.” The possibility of fleets of AI-automated drones equipped with precision cameras surveilling American cities, a scene seemingly pulled from a dystopian science fiction novel, could quickly become a concerning reality.

Beyond privacy concerns, Amazon Prime Air will likely have to contend with major safety concerns. Accidents caused by manned drones have already led to multiple legal disputes. For example, in 2017, “[t]he owner of an aerial photography business was sentenced to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine after a drone he was operating crashed into people during a 2015 parade and knocked one woman unconscious. Paul Skinner, 38, was found guilty of reckless endangerment by Judge Willie Gregory of the Seattle Municipal Court.” In the case of piloted drones, victims can bring a suit against the human operator; the widespread use of automated drones, in contrast, raises difficult questions about the increased risk of personal injury and how to apportion blame. Last month, questions about the safety of Amazon’s ground-based “autonomous personal delivery devices”, known as Amazon Scout, led the city of Kirkland, Washington to place a temporary moratorium on their continued use, and as Amazon Prime Air moves towards wide-scale implementation, it could likely face similar slow-downs and push back from various state and local governments. 

Despite these setbacks, Amazon has not faltered in its commitment to implement Amazon Prime Air. The promise of faster, more efficient shipping will very likely continue to outweigh the challenges facing the implementation of aerial delivery drones; this is proven by Amazon’s commitment to launching its program, along with Alphabet Inc.’s and UPS’ already operational delivery drone programs. However, the technical challenges and social concerns surrounding these programs will likely continue to delay their full-scale rollout in the near future, “grounding” Amazon Prime Air for at least a little bit longer.