The growing concern for general safety is the most important argument against the use of drones, but is your current privacy truly at risk?
More specifically, can drones record and listen into your private conversations? I dived deep into different case studies to find out, and here’s the (somewhat) unsettling answer.
There are enough valid reports to prove that drones are, in fact, capable of hearing people’s conversations. The likelihood of this happening, however, is low as they need to be particularly well-equipped.
So, what exactly does this mean for you? I’ll be covering just that in this post, including the factors that play a role and the actions you can take.
The first basic question would be if drones are ever built to record audio and if standard consumer drones are built able to do that.
As much as drones can record videos, they typically cannot record audio. This is because they do not have an in-built audio recorder or a microphone. Even if a drone would have a microphone mounted, it would mainly capture the loud propeller noise first.
Besides, the videos that a drone records do not come with sound. Someone can only add audio effects to the videos after reviewing and editing the footage.
Some drone pilots can be a bit innovative, or let’s say cunning, by attaching a microphone to their drones. However, this is an ineffective way of listening in on someone or recording sounds.
In any case, the propellers of a drone are extremely loud, as a result, limiting the microphone’s ability to capture any meaningful sounds. Moreover, the drone has to fly extremely close to you to listen in on your conversations, of which you would have noticed the intrusion by then.
The CRS report on drones states that drone technology has advanced enough to record clear audio. It was published in 2013 - we’ve come a long way since then.
So, how far does this capability go now? Is our privacy at risk in our own homes?
Drones can hear inside your house if they’re attached to the right audiovisual gear, especially an aerial audio microphone. The extra equipment will facilitate two-way audio, but considering drones' loud noises it’s unlikely to discern much.
Now, don’t get the wrong idea: turning a singular drone into a system is nothing less than complicated. And needless to say, it’s incredibly expensive.
If a regular person decides to eavesdrop on you through your house, three main problems will immediately present themselves:
We know that specific drones can make this very process simpler. At the same time though, those high-end models aren’t designed for the commercial market.
Therefore, that person would have to make do with a system that’s only just functional. And fortunately for you, those are a lot easier to spot.
That being said, whether drones can see inside your house is a different story.
The possibilities are practically endless, so it’s entirely normal to be a little anxious about a drone spying on you behind your back. The question is, how’re you supposed to spot one?
Here’s the thing: most drones are super loud. Think of an alarm system going off in the air at different heights; you’d notice it.
You can identify a drone listening to you if it’s parked in a peculiar place that’s suspiciously close to you. The same might be the case if you repeatedly hear a distinctly loud buzzing right outside your room’s window.
That’s not all. If you want to be absolutely sure your mind’s not playing tricks on you, a UAV-based surveillance radar might be for you. These are expensive, portable devices that are designed to detect drones in particular.
It is important, however, to not get instantly carried away.
Consumer drones are only increasing in popularity, and they’re typically bought for the right reasons. It is very likely that a drone hovering close to you, on the odd occasion, is recording something entirely different.
And as I mentioned above, spying on someone with a drone simply isn’t as easy as you might think. If you’re still skeptical, this hands-on YouTube video might change your perspective.
Some of the best long-range drones can capture videos from as far as 5 miles away. However, these same drones are extremely limited when it comes to picking up sounds. They lack the right equipment to record audio or pick up any meaningful sounds.
With that said, establishing how far away a drone can pick up sounds is out of the question. Whether the drone is close to your window or hovering around your neighborhood, there is no chance that this unmanned aircraft will hear your conversations.
By now, you already know that drones cannot record audio or pick up sounds. Some of the reasons why drones do not come equipped with built-in audio recording devices include:
Noise is the main reason why drones do not have microphones or audio recorders. The loud noise from the propellers makes it impossible to capture high-quality sounds. Even with noise-canceling technology, it is not viable to record audio over the noise produced by the propeller, electric motor, and wind.
Fixing a mic onto your drone can be a tedious and time-consuming process. Even if you were to do it successfully, you have to contend with the annoying background noise emanating from the propellers. With this in mind, many drone pilots do not consider fixing a mic on the drones as a viable venture.
Let’s face it. Drones do not come cheaply. In the same breath, buying and fixing a noise-canceling microphone onto your drone may force you to dig deeper into your pockets, only to be met with the noise coming from the motor and propellers. For this reason, equipping your drone with a mic or audio recorder is not worth it.
Currently, most drones are not able to record any meaningful sounds. But with advances in technology, it is just a matter of time before drones start recording audio and picking up sounds.
In fact, drones that come equipped with GoPros cameras are already able to record audio since these cameras have a small built-in mic. However, the sounds captured are of very low quality and in most cases, inaudible.
To sum it all up: drones can definitely be used in an intrusive way. It’s a fact you’ll have to make peace with.
A drone can indeed record audio and spy on you as long as it’s integrated into the right system. This is, however, highly unlikely because of the loud noises the propellers make and the advanced technology required to do that.
Here’s the deal. Peepers have a wide array of technology to choose from. And since UAV audio solutions are far from perfect, drones don’t quite make it high on their list.
So, you can rest easy knowing that a drone - in all likelihood - won’t be used to pick up your private conversations.