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If someone is using a drone to spy on you, what can they actually see?

Drone technologies have gone mainstream, so have you experienced one flying into your personal space yet? You don’t know who’s flying it or what they want, or what they can actually see.



aerial drones

Super secret surveillance gadgets

Drones were originally invented to perform surveillance functions for the military, and to drop missiles. It was only a matter of time before these aerial spies began to appeal to entrepreneurs and consumers. Nowadays, drones are available to the general public, ostensibly for photography projects and entertainment. For example, the sophisticated DJI Phantom 4 is available to customer for about $1,400.


So what can people actually do with them?

As you might imagine, the availability of drones to the general public has raised some concerns about spying. Can and do people use drones to spy on their neighbors?

A number of lawsuits have already cropped up between drone flyers and the people they may or may not have been spying on – including one Kentucky dad who shot down a drone that he says was spying on his teen daughter.

Slate journalist Aymann Ismail was curious to find out how easy it would be to spy on people with a commercial drone. He took his DJI Phantom 4 on a test drive. With the permission of Slate Video’s executive producer Ayana Morali, Ismail flew a drone outside Morali’s second story Brooklyn apartment to see what he could see.

Ismail found that it was very easy to see Morali, including detailed facial expressions, but only when she stood near the window. Otherwise, it was too dark in the apartment to see what was going on inside.

Easy to peek, not so easy to spy

Ismail flew his drone down the street to try some outdoor spying at a nearby park. He found that it was easy to identify people and see the details of their clothing and facial expressions. Caleb, a 26 year old that Ismail filmed with this drone, was made rather uneasy by the encounter.

He said, “it’s easy to imagine people using it for malicious intent potentially.”

Indeed, it’s not hard to image that as technology advances, using a drone to spy will only become easier. However, Ismail assures us that, at least for now, it would be pretty tricky for a drone operator to spy on you undetected because the rotors on the drone are “as loud as a lawn mower.”


Ellen Vessels, Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for her wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when she's not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

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  1. JAV

    May 17, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    This is not a drone issue; it is a photography privacy issue.

    Many states already have Paparazzi or Peeping-Tom laws which protect people in private locations regardless of the exact camera platform being used. Narrowly tying any law to a single piece of technology will make the law obsolete by the time it is enacted.

    Does it really matter that the camera is flown by a drone? How about a step ladder and your phone? A selfie stick? A long lens equipped SLR from a second story across the street? A balloon? A trained pigeon with micro camera? Etc…

    The outdoor park example in the article is nonsense since you have no expectation of privacy in a public park and most cell phones do a better job at taking pictures in a park than a consumer drone camera.

    A single camera privacy law can criminalize privacy violating activities and does need yet another law every time a new type of camera platform is rapidly invented.

    Florida for instance has a ridiculous drone surveillance act, so narrowly defined and with so many exemptions, that it serves nearly no purpose at all. Well except to make it look like the governor is taking action against the evil drone threat.

  2. Pingback: Dedrone just raised $15M to protect people from drones' spyin' eyes - The American Genius

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Snap a business card pic, Microsoft app finds ’em on LinkedIn

(TECH NEWS) Microsoft Pix is teaming with LinkedIn in a neat way that will benefit networking, especially if you have any lazy bones in your body.



microsoft pix

Have you ever been watching some sort of action-adventure movie where there’s a command center with all sorts of unbelievable technology that kind of blows your mind? Well, every day we come closer and closer to living within that command center.

You may think that I’m talkin’ crazy, but check this out – there is a new technology that can scan a business card, and find the business card’s owner on LinkedIn. (Can I get a “say what????!”)

This app is courtesy of Microsoft and goes by the name Pix (it’s not new, but this function is).

The way it works is simple: Bill Jones hands you his business card, you fire up the Pix app (currently only on the iPhone. Sorry, Droids), you snap a picture of the card and the app takes the details (phone number, company, etc.) and finds Bill on LinkedIn. Bingo.

It also will automatically take that information and will create a new profile for Bill Jones within your phone’s contacts. After you scan the business card through Pix, Microsoft will ask if you want to take action.

At this point, Pix will recognize and capture phone numbers, email addresses, and URLs. If your phone is logged into LinkedIn, the apps will work together to find Bill’s profile. Part of me wants to think that this is kind of creepy but a larger part of me thinks that it’s really cool.

According to Microsoft Research’s Principal Program Manager, Josh Weisberg, “Pix is powered by AI to streamline and enhance the experience of taking a picture with a series of intelligent actions: recognizing the subject of a photo, inferring users’ intent and capturing the best quality picture.”

“It’s the combination of both understanding and intelligently acting on a users’ intent that sets Pix apart. Today’s update works with LinkedIn to add yet another intelligent dimension to Pix’s capabilities.”

Pix itself originally launched in 2016 as a way to compete against AI’s ability to edit a photo by use of exposure, focus, and color. This new integration in working with LinkedIn is a time saver, and is beneficial for those who collect business cards like candy and forget to actually do something with them.

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Walmart and the blockchain, sitting in a tree

(TECH NEWS) Say goodbye to #foodwaste with Walmart’s new smart package delivery proposal featuring everyone’s favorite pal, blockchain.




Following the trend of adding “smart” as a prefix to any word to make it futuristic, Walmart now proposes “smart packages.” The retail giant filed for a new patent to improve their shipping and package tracking process using blockchain.

Last week, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released the application, which was filed back in August 2017.

Officially, the application notes the smart package will have “a body portion having an inner volume” and “a door coupled to the body portion” that can be open or closed to restrict or allow access to the package contents.

In other words, they’ve patented a box with a door on it that also has lots of monitoring devices.

Various iterations lay claim to all versions of said box include smart packaging utilizing a combination of monitoring devices, modular adapters, autonomous delivery vehicles, and blockchain.

Monitoring devices would regulate location tracking, inner content removal, and environmental conditions of the package like temperature and humidity. This could help reduce loss of products sensitive to environmental changes, like fresh produce.

Modular adapters perform these actions as well, and also ensure the package has access to a power source and the delivery vehicle’s security system to prevent theft.

Blockchain comes into play with a delivery encryption system, monitoring, authenticating, and registering packages. As it moves through the supply chain, packages will be registered throughout the process.

The blockchain would be hashed with private key addresses of sellers, couriers, and buyers to track the chain of custody. Every step of the shipping process would be documented, providing greater accountability and easier record keeping.

This isn’t Walmart’s first foray into the world of blockchain. Last year they teamed up with Nestle, Kroger, and other food companies in a partnership with IBM to improve food traceability with blockchain.

Walmart also took part in a similar food tracking program in China with last year as well.

And let’s not forget Walmart’s May 2017 USPTO application to use blockchain tech for package delivery via unmanned drones. Their more recent application builds on the drone idea, which also proposed tracking packages with blockchain and monitoring product conditions during delivery.

In their latest application, Walmart notes, “online customers many times seek to purchase items that may require a controlled environment and further seek to have greater security in the shipping packaging that the items are shipped in.”

Implementing blockchain and smart package monitoring as part of the shipping process could greatly reduce product loss and improve shipment tracking.

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Experts warn of actual AI risks – we’re about to live in a sci fi movie

(TECH NEWS) A new report on AI indicates that the sci fi dystopias we’ve been dreaming up are actually possible. Within a few short years. Welp.



AI robots

Long before artificial intelligence (AI) was even a real thing, science fiction novels and films have warned us about the potentially catastrophic dangers of giving machines too much power.

Now that AI actually exists, and in fact, is fairly widespread, it may be time to consider some of the potential drawbacks and dangers of the technology, before we find ourselves in a nightmarish dystopia the likes of which we’ve only begun to imagine.

Experts from the industry as well as academia have done exactly that, in a recently released 100-page report, “The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence: Forecasting, Prevention, Mitigation.”

The report was written by 26 experts over the course of a two-day workshop held in the UK last month. The authors broke down the potential negative uses of artificial intelligence into three categories – physical, digital, or political.

In the digital category are listed all of the ways that hackers and other criminals can use these advancements to hack, phish, and steal information more quickly and easily. AI can be used to create fake emails and websites for stealing information, or to scan software for potential vulnerabilities much more quickly and efficiently than a human can. AI systems can even be developed specifically to fool other AI systems.

Physical uses included AI-enhanced weapons to automate military and/or terrorist attacks. Commercial drones can be fitted with artificial intelligence programs, and automated vehicles can be hacked for use as weapons. The report also warns of remote attacks, since AI weapons can be controlled from afar, and, most alarmingly, “robot swarms” – which are, horrifyingly, exactly what they sound like.

Read also: Is artificial intelligence going too far, moving too quickly?

Lastly, the report warned that artificial intelligence could be used by governments and other special interest entities to influence politics and generate propaganda.

AI systems are getting creepily good at generating faked images and videos – a skill that would make it all too easy to create propaganda from scratch. Furthermore, AI can be used to find the most important and vulnerable targets for such propaganda – a potential practice the report calls “personalized persuasion.” The technology can also be used to squash dissenting opinions by scanning the internet and removing them.

The overall message of the report is that developments in this technology are “dual use” — meaning that AI can be created that is either helpful to humans, or harmful, depending on the intentions of the people programming it.

That means that for every positive advancement in AI, there could be a villain developing a malicious use of the technology. Experts are already working on solutions, but they won’t know exactly what problems they’ll have to combat until those problems appear.

The report concludes that all of these evil-minded uses for these technologies could easily be achieved within the next five years. Buckle up.

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