In the past year, drones have targeted terror suspects, filmed the Fendi runway and inspired a hell of a lot of art. But the increasing commercial availability of drones means that more consumers are getting their hands on their own unmanned aerial vehicles – and their owners are coming into conflict with a lot more members of the public, many of them women who don't take too kindly to HD camera-equipped drones invading their personal space.
In Connecticut, a 23-year-old woman has been arrested for assault and breach of peace after she attacked a drone hobbyist who was flying his quadracoptor on the beach. In an iPhone video captured by the victim, she can be heard saying "this guy is filming people on the beach" before knocking him to the ground, calling him "perv" and muttering "I'm going to beat your ass".
Back in May, a Reddit user called fortheluzaccount posted a disturbing story about seeing a camera-equipped drone flying near women in bikinis on a private beach in Virginia. "It was getting really close to women," she writes, "like straight up their asses close, flying really low, staying there for probably three minutes at a time."
She discovered the two drone operators in the nearby dunes and eventually convinced them to leave. "You are violating every woman on this beach," she claims to have told them. "Get it out of the sky."
In the same month, a woman in Seattle reported seeing an aerial drone with a camera hovering outside her window. When her husband confronted the drone operator, who was standing outside their house on the pavement, he claimed to be doing "research".
Creepshots are nothing new – in 2012, controversy erupted over a Reddit subreddit dedicated to posting photos of women that were taken without their consent. Think everything from upskirt photos to iPhone pics of unsuspecting women in Starbucks queues. It's since been banned from the site, but that hasn't stopped spin-off subreddits like r/FacebookCleavage and a Creepshots Tumblr.
But drones constitute creepshots taken to a whole new level: anonymous creeps can use them hide at a safe distance and snap away via remote control. (Tellingly, UAVs have already been adopted by paparazzi to score photos of celebs in otherwise remote or secluded areas.) Meanwhile, innocent hobbyists – like the Connecticut man flying his drone over a beach – are tarred with the same brush and subject to suspicion and assault.
Currently, there are no specific laws targeting peeping Toms who use flying robots to take pictures of your butt. University of Nebraska professor Matt Waite, who runs the school’s Drone Journalism Lab, tells the Daily Dot that current privacy laws could be easily changed to apply to drones. But as forthelulzaccount puts it, this isn't just about the issue of privacy – it's about how new technology takes advantage of legal grey areas to objectify women in public spaces.
"Being looked at is one thing," she writes. "It is pretty much impossible to avoid that. Anyone with eyes and brain cells can do so. This isn't what that's about. It's about the fact that we were RECORDED without PERMISSION as sexual objects."
Moral of the story? When you're at the pool this weekend, make sure you keep your eyes on the sky.
Follow Zing Tsjeng on Twitter here @misszing