Drone package delivery and consumer privacy

Alex Berke et al

Door-to-door drone package deliveries are taking off across the US.  In this work we expose and study a newly emerging privacy issue. 

FAA safety regulations require drones to broadcast their locations with an identifier (Remote ID). This allows any third party to track drones from vendors where they pick up products to customers' location, easily linking customers with products ranging from take-out food to prescription medications.

In our research "Routing with Privacy for Drone Package Delivery Systems" we first described this risk. We then developed routing strategies to mitigate the risk and studied their impact on efficiency.  Our research paper was presented at the 2022 International Conference on Research in Air Transportation (ICRAT) and won a best paper award. 

Customer privacy risks can be mitigated by aggregating customers' orders and randomizing the order in which they're delivered. But these strategies can introduce additional delivery delays or fees.  Are customers willing to pay for privacy?

Our 2023 research measures the importance of these privacy risks to delivery service customers, their willingness to pay for privacy, and how this differs across consumer groups and product types. "Drone delivery and the value of customer privacy: A discrete choice experiment with U.S. consumers" was published in Transportation Research Part C: Emerging Technologies:

We developed a discrete choice experiment and mode choice logit models using data from over 3700 US consumers who chose between ground vehicle versus drone delivery across a range of privacy, delivery fee, and wait time options. Preferences were tested for various product types: take-out food, liquor store items, groceries, and prescription medications.

We found customers were overall willing to pay for privacy but that this differed by product type and consumer group.

Males and frequent e-commerce users were more likely to prefer drone regardless of privacy, while privacy improvements had a significantly larger impact on females and younger consumers.

See our paper for more information about our methods and results, as well as a discussion for those implementing these technologies: