Walmart Slammed for Delivery Service That Critics Say Violates Privacy

The retailer's cutting-edge new offering is angering some local residents.

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Walmart may be a company beloved by shoppers for its convenience and low prices, but it's not entirely immune to coming under fire for missteps. Some have cited the store charging certain customers more than they should. Others take issue with the retailer's well-intentioned single-use bag policy. And some have called out the company for its sudden shift towards anti-theft tactics that ruin the shopping experience. And now, in the latest instance, Walmart is getting slammed for its new delivery service that critics claim violates their policy. Read on to see why customers are upset with the retailer now.

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Walmart recently launched a cutting-edge service for delivering some customer orders.

Walmart website on phone

Walmart has long strived to provide its customers with more accessible ways to shop, from pick-up orders to home delivery that includes unloading items directly into your fridge. But recently, the company took a cutting-edge approach to fulfilling orders by launching a drone delivery service for select customers.

After testing it in 2020 to deliver COVID-19 testing kits in select markets, Walmart has since expanded the offering to select stores in multiple cities across seven states, including Arkansas, Texas, Florida, Arizona, Virginia, North Carolina, and Utah. Customers that live within a mile of stores that are part of the company's partnership with DroneUp can place an order any day from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. to be delivered in as soon as 30 minutes for a fee of $3.99.

"Drone delivery makes it possible for our customers to shop those last-minute or forgotten items with ease, in a package that's frankly really cool," Vik Gopalakrishnan, Walmart U.S. vice president of innovation and automation, said in a statement. "It may seem like a futuristic option, but it's giving our customers what they've always wanted, and that's time back to focus on what is most important to them."

Some local residents say the new Walmart delivery service raises concerns over privacy.


But despite the novel service's convenience, some are already unhappy with the retailer because of it. In Glendale, Arizona, residents who live nearby a Walmart that hosts a DroneUp hub complain that the drones are creating a nuisance—and raising privacy concerns.

"It sounds like a hornet's nest that's been kicked up," Mike Baxter, a Glendale resident, told local CBS affiliate KPHO. "I am not against drones but do it somewhere else. It's not a necessary service here," who added that the machines disturb his neighborhood's tranquility and violate his property.

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One resident said she was essentially told that she had "no legal rights" when she brought up her concerns.

person looking through blinds

So far, some locals have become so fed up that they've taken their complaints to the store. But when Glendale resident Autumn Johnson voiced her concerns, she said they were dismissed.

"The gentleman from DroneUp delivery basically told me I had, essentially, no legal rights," Johnson told local NBC affiliate KPNX, adding that the machines can also record videos or take photos of her property. "They could be wherever they wanted, as long as it was above a blade of grass, anywhere on my property. Front yard, back yard, above your roof, in front of your windows; I had no rights."

Privacy laws pertaining to a residential property in Arizona are partly defined by a judge's ruling in a 2017 case. It states that a "reasonable expectation of privacy" can't extend to places like a backyard, in the same way that someone who owns a two-story home can look over their fence onto their neighbor's property and photograph or videotape at will, KPNX reports, per the Arizona Capital Times. Unfortunately, this logic doesn't sit well with residents who fear burgeoning drone technology is expanding quickly without regulations.

"You are supposed to have a reasonable enjoyment of your property in sort of a peaceful and quiet manner—obviously, we know there's a road and those kinds of things—but most people don't think there's going to be a loud vehicle essentially hovering over their house for an unknown amount of time," Johnson said. "I mean, if it's like [Amazon] Prime, they can be up past your house dozens of times a day. It's very loud and very disruptive."

DroneUp says it is operating deliveries "safely and legally."

New York, USA - 05-09-2019: Sign of Walmart supermarket

Despite the new concerns, Walmart says that its drone delivery program was designed with safety in mind first, following all federal drone regulations and using FAA-certified pilots to operate the fleet, KPNX reports. "Ensuring the privacy and safety of communities, while providing the benefits of drones is our top priority," DroneUp said in a statement to Best Life. "We use highly advanced systems with multiple redundancies to ensure safe operations. These systems do not take any visual recordings to also ensure privacy but enhance safety."

"Our autonomous software populates flight routes that avoid areas with a heavy population density, busy roads, and sidewalks whenever possible with our operator's oversight to ensure the best routing is chosen," the company says. "When it comes to sound, the drone flies at an altitude of 180 to 300 feet to its destination and at that altitude, the decibel level is barely noticeable. When it gets to the delivery location, it comes to around 80 feet to lower the package safely down, not coming close to the ground. At 80 feet, the sound decibel level is lower than a local delivery truck."

"We understand that this is new technology and we are working hard to address all aspects of this proactively but know that drone technology offers a huge array of benefits to everyone," DroneUp said in its statement. "We are committed to working with each and every community in which we operate to help people understand not only the value these drones provide, but to answer any and all questions that people have about this innovative technology."

When reached for comment, a Walmart spokesperson told Best Life: "We care deeply about the communities we serve and are always appreciative to hear feedback. Customer safety and privacy is a top priority and we'll continue to work with community members to ensure our delivery methods are consistent with their needs and desires."

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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