TIME Military

How the Pentagon Bombs Budget Estimates to $mithereens

An artist's conception of what the Air Force's new Long Range Strike Bomber might look like. Northrop Grumman

And why skepticism should accompany Monday's proposed 2016 defense budget

President Obama is sending his proposed $585 billion 2016 Pentagon budget to Capitol Hill on Monday. It consists of reams of documents, charts and tables that make it difficult for normal folks to understand. So let’s take a look at a single line item—the Air Force’s new bomber, for which the service is expected to seek about $1.5 billion next year—for insight into why Pentagon numbers don’t always add up.

The new bomber—designed to augment, and ultimately replace, the nation’s aging fleets of B-52, B-1 and B-2 aircraft—is so new that it doesn’t even have a name yet, beyond the generic title Long Range Strike Bomber.

But the highly-classified warplane already has a well-publicized price.

The cost, the Pentagon has been saying since 2011, is $550 million per bomber. It’s the only price tag attached to the new bomber and, and a result, it’s the one cited when the new plane is discussed.

“It’s like $550 million per copy,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said earlier this month. “It’s an estimate based upon multiple reviews of the program and not a single source.”

“Five hundred million dollars per copy sounds like a lot of money, but for the capability that we will be achieving, it actually is considered to be affordable,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told Bloomberg last summer.

A team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin is competing against Northrop Grumman to build the Air Force’s next crown jewel.

The $550 million figure has been cited so often that those not playing close attention could be forgiven for thinking that it’s the actual cost of the airplane. Kind of like the bottom line on the sticker you see on the window of a new car. But it’s not. Like any bureaucracy dedicated to expansion, the $550 million sum is the lowest figure the Air Force number can say with a straight face.

After repeatedly planting that $550 million flag in the minds of lawmakers and taxpayers, Pentagon officials have sometimes acknowledged that the $550 million represents what is known inside the military as the “APUC,” or average procurement unit cost. What’s important about that figure isn’t what it includes, but what it leaves out.

First of all, the $550 million price tag is based on buying between 80 and 100 of the bombers. Driving the price per plane down to $550 million requires economies of scale that only come over such long production runs. Early aircraft off the assembly line are very expensive, as the radar-eluding B-2 “stealth” bomber made clear. “Cost of Stealth Bombers Soars to $450 Million Each,” the Washington Post reported breathlessly on its front page nearly 30 years ago, in May 1988. Few believed at the time that a bomber could cost so much. But that was for a planned buy of 132 planes. The Air Force ended up buying only 21. The B-2’s ultimate price: $2.1 billion each.

Second, the $550 million doesn’t include the research and development needed to actually build the plane. Without the R&D, the plane would truly be stealthy—because it wouldn’t exist. Experts inside and outside the Pentagon estimate the new bomber’s development will add between $20 billion and $25 billion to the Pentagon’s projected $55 billion procurement price tag for 100 planes.

Third, the $550 million price is based on the value of a 2010 dollar. That’s 12 years before the first pair of bombers is slated to be delivered. Accounting for inflation since has already driven the cost per plane close to $600 million, and that number will keep rising in the future. Delays in the plane’s production schedule will push it even higher.

Finally, the $550 million estimate doesn’t include anything for the all-but-certain cost overruns a weapons program like this will experience. No one can say how much unanticipated costs will add to the bomber’s ultimate price, but one can declare with certainty that it won’t be zero.

Todd Harrison of the nonprofit Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments estimates the bomber program’s true cost—assuming 100 planes and no cost overruns—at $90 billion. That’s $900 million a copy, 64% higher than the Air Force’s official $550 million figure.

“I actually think it’s very important that we buy the bomber,” Harrison says. “I just think we should acknowledge what it is likely to cost.” He also thinks there will be cost overruns, and that fewer than 100 will be bought. That’ll drive the price per plane into the B-2’s billion-dollar stratosphere.

Harrison isn’t the only one with doubts, judging from what some Air Force officials have said while describing the new bomber’s advertised price. Eric Fanning, the Air Force’s #2 civilian, has called the $550 million figure “a pretty firm chalk line.” Chief Air Force weapons buyer William LaPlante describes it a “marker in the sand.”

Whatever. It’s obvious that the Air Force’s $550 million estimate isn’t carved in stone.

TIME Security

The World’s Most Popular Site for Pirated Downloads Is Back Online After a Long Outage

A search is performed on The Pirate Bay Web site on a comput
Adam Berry—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Pirate Bay had been offline since December

The Pirate Bay, the world’s most popular file-sharing site, came back online Saturday after Swedish authorities had shut it down in December.

The site’s relaunch, complete with a new logo of a phoenix, was expected, as a countdown clock had been displayed on the domain, VentureBeat reports. The relaunch is reportedly a slimmed-down version, not requiring several former administrators and moderators.

The Pirate Bay’s offices, based in Stockholm, were raided two months ago by Swedish officials after complaints from an anti-piracy group, resulting in the site’s longest shutdown ever. The premises were previously raided in 2006 and 2010, but the page had been brought back online within a few days.

[VentureBeat]

TIME Companies

How Dennis Crowley Built Foursquare After Quitting Google

NikeFuel Forum
Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley speaks during the NikeFuel Forum at Spring Studios on October 15, 2013 in New York City. Mike Lawrie—Getty Images

"If they’re going to turn it off, we’re going to build another one!”

Remember checking in to places on Foursquare? Of course you do. At the peak of its hype around 2012, the app boasted more than 20 million users and billions of check-ins. Everyone with an iPhone seemed to be using it to let their friends know what they were up to. You may have even been “mayor” of the brunch spot down the street or the rooftop bar downtown.

Though the check-in’s popularity has cooled, the company’s excitable co-founder and CEO Dennis Crowley is pushing ahead in the app’s bustling Manhattan headquarters, figuring out new ways to make money off its wealth of search data. Foursquare claims 55 million users worldwide, with a recent split in the app’s functions attracting a new generation of users.

Crowley, 38, sat down with TIME this week to talk about his long road from broke snowboarding instructor to chief of a multi-million dollar venture. Along the way, Crowley nurtured his addiction to connecting friends with hip places by constantly updating Foursquare’s early progenitor, Dodgeball, an app he first built in 2000. He told us about the ups and downs of entrepreneurship and continuing on even when a Palm Pilot startup lays you off and Google drops your pet project.

Here’s Crowley (edited and condensed for clarity)…

On building rickety websites in the 1990s

I was never able to take computer science or engineering classes, because I just wasn’t good enough at math to get into them. But I was able to put together these very basic static websites. I learned a lot of it just out of a book, a learn-to-make-a-website-in 30-days book.

In college, I’d go, “hey, we were at this party,” and I would take the pictures and put them online and write stories and send them to my friends that went to college elsewhere. Like, “Hey, this is what I did this weekend, isn’t it cool? It’s like a photo book, I’m sharing it!” It took me four hours to scan all these photos I took with a disposable camera and it cost me $20 to develop the film. But I was really into that.

On working at a cool Palm Pilot startup

I love this idea of making city guides: you make a piece of software, and it changes what people do when they leave work. You have your phone it tells you where to go and you can just make plans on the fly. [Startup] Vindigo was doing it for Palm Pilots. I was super excited about working there. They were building this stuff doing it across multiple cities and they were trying to generate advertising off of it.

This was around 2000 or so in New York. I would go to these bars on the Lower East Side [of Manhattan] and you would see people using Vindigo, with the Palm Pilot screen as this blue color, and you’d be like, “those guys are using the app that I made during the day.” And I got totally hooked on this, you can make things during the day and see people use them at night. That was my calling.

On being down and out in New York City after the Dot Com bubble burst

I turned 25, got laid off from Vindigo, and broke up with my girlfriend. It was the worst week ever. There were no other jobs to be had. I holed myself up in my apartment and we didn’t have anything to do.

We turned my Dodgeball service that we had, and I added this feature so you could say, “Hey, I’m here. Hey, I, Dennis, am here.” You have five friends on the service and it would send an email to everyone’s phone and everyone’s phone would ring, and because we don’t have jobs and we don’t have anything to do during the day, and everyone got the message at the same time.

It was like “Oh, Dennis is at Central Park, I guess we’ll all go to Central Park. Oh, Lucas is at Bleecker Street Bar, I guess we’ll all go there and watch the Yankees game.” And we built this very early Bat-Signal type of thing.

On going to grad school—because robots

I was in my beat up, after-9/11, no-job thing and my buddy said “come to this weird art thing at [New York University].” It was the end of the semester when everyone shows off stuff they’ve made, and I met this woman that was making a robot that followed another robot, that followed another robot, that followed the first robot. One of them drew a line, and the other would follow the line. One had a light, the other would follow the light. And sound, follow the sound.

I was like, “You made this? That’s so cool!” And she was like, “I don’t know, I just made it!” And I was like, “These are my people.”

On turning his grad school thesis into a Google acquisition

At NYU, we had to come up with a thesis project and [my friend] Alex Rainert said, “hey, why don’t you take that Dodgeball thing and dust it off now that Friendster is a thing?” We made it look a little like Friendster and tightened it up on mobile, and we learned a lot about geocoding and GPS. We launched it in 2004 for five cities. And it started getting some press.

I went out to San Francisco to speak at a conference. My friend there was like, “oh sh*t, I’m sorry I didn’t pick you up at the airport. Can you come to Google instead and just meet me here for lunch?” And then I went to Google and it was like, “just don’t tell anyone that you’re here, go hide behind the desk.” And people found out, “oh, one of the guys from Dodgeball is here,” and they said “hey, can you tell us how it works?”

And I spoke to one person, then two people and there were 10 people and eventually I went to this conversation when they basically said, “hey, you guys are doing some pretty cool stuff, we don’t really invest in companies but you guys should come and work here.”

And that’s how Dodgeball ended up getting acquired by Google. It was super, super serendipitous.

On reinventing Dodgeball as Foursquare in 2009 after quitting Google

We’re at a bar for my buddy’s birthday party, and someone read on their phone that, hey, Google just announced that they’re going to shut down the following three projects: Notebook, something else, and Dodgeball. And I’m like, “wait, they’re going to shut down Dodgeball? It’s still running!” Dodgeball was the reason half of the people ended up at that birthday. That’s how everyone in New York coordinated, all my friends.

And [my programmer friend] Naveen Selvadurai and I said, “If they’re going to turn it off, we’re going to build another one!” This was at the bar. And everyone was like, “Yeah! Build!” We’d sit around my kitchen table and just work 18 hours a day. Every day until the thing started getting a little stronger, and we launched in a couple other cities and it started getting some momentum.

[Venture capitalist] Charlie O’Donnell wrote this blog post, “I’ve seen the future of Yelp and it’s called Foursquare.” And it was like, people will check into this thing. Merchants want the check-ins, merchants give discounts, this company will generate money, and more people will check in. I read that and I thought, “This seems like a pretty good idea. That’s the story we should tell the investors.” That’s what we started doing.

We ended up raising some money from Union Square Ventures. And me and Naveen, we got our first $1,000 paycheck from Foursquare. Suddenly we had a three-person team, and we just started growing from there . . . and now here we are, five years later.

TIME privacy

What Uber Still Won’t Say About Your Data

Travis Kalanick, chief executive officer of Uber Technologies Inc., gestures as he speaks during the Institute of Directors (IOD) annual convention at the Royal Albert Hall in London, U.K., on Oct. 3, 2014.
Travis Kalanick, chief executive officer of Uber Technologies Inc., gestures as he speaks during the Institute of Directors (IOD) annual convention at the Royal Albert Hall in London, U.K., on Oct. 3, 2014. Chris Ratcliffe—Bloomberg/Getty Images

A privacy audit left some questions unanswered

Uber, the massively popular car-hailing company, has acquired a reputation for being overly cavalier about data privacy. Last November, Uber vice president Emil Michael suggested investigating journalists critical of Uber to find dirt in their “personal lives.” A venture capitalist said his private location data was broadcast to a large audience at a Chicago Uber launch party. And a Buzzfeed reporter in November was tracked on her way to an interview with New York’s top Uber executive.

Uber has since refocused its attention on riders’ privacy, rewording its data policy and hiring an outside attorney to conduct an investigation.

“At Uber, protecting the personal information of riders is a core responsibility and company value,” said Uber CEO Travis Kalanick in a Friday statement. “Delivering on that value means that privacy is woven into every facet of our business, from the design of new products to how we interact with riders, drivers and the public at large.”

The results of that audit were released Friday. The investigation, led by Harriet Pearson, a Washington, D.C. attorney at Hogan Lovells with an impressive history of arbitrating privacy and security issues, agreed with Kalanick’s own assessment: Uber has a strong privacy policy. Her six-week investigation at Uber involved reviewing hundreds of documents and interviewing Uber’s leadership. It ultimately resulted in an exculpatory report that Pearson called “comprehensive.”

“In our view, Uber has dedicated significantly more resources to privacy at this point in its age as a company given its sector and size than other companies that we’ve observed,” said Pearson in an interview with TIME. Uber is about six years old, it’s valued at more than $41 billion.

The saga has raised important questions about how private companies access our personal information, from our credit card data to our precise location. A lot of Uber’s data can be really useful: The company uses it to settle internal disputes, fix bugs or help cities plan traffic patterns, as it has done in Boston, for example.

But in the age of the Snowden National Security Agency revelations, consumers are particularly sensitive about how their personal information is used. Uber has promised to follow the report’s recommendations, such as expanding employee training and making its policies more transparent. But the audit still left some questions unanswered, according to Bruce Schneier a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

“I saw nothing in their statements” to alleviate privacy concerns, says Schneier of Uber’s report. “Anytime you put this kind of surveillance power in peoples hand, they look up their enemies and friends… If the culture is not, ‘we don’t do this,’ than you do it.”

Here’s what we still want to know more about.

How many employees at Uber can see my personal data?

Uber says access is limited to employees who have a reason to need it, like those investigating fraud, answering user-driver inquiries or conducting trip analyses, said Katherine Tassi, Uber’s managing counsel for privacy, in an interview. But Tassi doesn’t have an exact figure.

“There’s no one particular number of employees that have access to user data,” she said.

How does Uber prevent its employees from looking at my data?

Uber gives employees access to customer data based on their responsibilities, while others are locked out through technical controls. “We noticed those kinds of controls at various levels” at Uber, said Pearson.

The report indicates Uber uses a combination of passwords, informal rules and employee monitoring to restrict access. In any case, according to Pearson, the company has a well-developed system for monitoring who is accessing your data and when.

So has Uber explained its recent privacy missteps?

Not fully. “We’re not going to comment on those specific instances that were in the press, but in general, we’re an organization of human beings and human beings make mistakes,” says Tassi. Pearson says her investigation only examined Uber’s privacy program and its structure, not particular incidents. So we don’t actually know how common it is for Uber employees to tap into your data, despite the company’s policy.

Do Uber employees ever get in trouble for doing fishy things with users’ data?

Uber won’t say. We know that Uber “disciplined” New York executive Josh Mohrer in November for tracking that Buzzfeed reporter’s ride, but we’re not sure how. Other than that, we don’t have any evidence Uber employees committed any other privacy violations.

Are Uber employees taught not to spy on me?

Uber talks informally with its employees about protecting customer data. Employees get “communications” from the senior team on handling riders’ data, Tassi said, and new Uber hires have to accept the company’s data access policy.

But when pressed, Uber didn’t say whether there’s a formal training program for employees, merely saying it was “in early stages of development.” That training “needs further formalization,” said Tassi.

TIME Smartphones

Why Microsoft Would Invest in an Android Startup

The Latest Mobile Apps At The App World Multi-Platform Developer Show
A logo for Google Inc.'s Android operating system is displayed on an advertising sign during the Apps World Multi-Platform Developer Show in London, U.K., on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013. Chris Ratcliffe—Bloomberg / Getty Images

The potential investment hints at a larger battle to grab real estate on your phone's homescreen

Microsoft is reportedly set to invest in a startup building its own version of the Google-owned Android mobile operating system.

Microsoft will hold a minority stake in Cyanogen, which rewrites Android’s open-source code and offers it as a souped-up alternative to Google’s version of the platform, the Wall Street Journal reports. Some 50 million devices currently run Cyanogen’s Android, while CEO Kirt McMaster says his army of 9,000 volunteer programmers are reshaping the software into a superior product.

“We’re going to take Android away from Google,” McMaster told the Journal.

That raises a few intriguing question about Microsoft’s investment — such as:

Why should Microsoft care about this startup?

Google currently dominates the mobile market. Roughly 84% of the world’s phones come pre-installed with Android, according to estimates from IDC. That means a vast majority of phones come pre-packaged with Google apps. Unbox the phone, and there they are the home screen. The user can always download rival apps, but who’s going to take the time to download Microsoft’s apps when Google’s are already there?

How did Google come to dominate the home screen?

Google gives away Android’s source code for free, even to rival device manufacturers. But the giveaway comes with a few strings attached. If device makers want access to Google’s most popular apps, such as Search and the Google Play store, they have historically had to sign agreements to place those apps “immediately adjacent” to the home screen, according to signed contracts reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Cyanogen’s version of Android, however, would release device makers from those contractual obligations. That would mean if Microsoft made hardware running Cyanogen’s Android, it would be freed up to put its on apps front and center.

Can’t Microsoft just puts its apps on the phones it already makes?

Sure, but Microsoft’s Windows Phones comprise only 3% of the global market. That’s why Microsoft has recently unleashed its flagship apps for iPhone and Android phones. Apple iPhone and iMac users have already downloaded Word, Powerpoint and Excel more than 80 million times to date. Now that its apps are in a polygamous relationship with rival devices, Microsoft might want to ensure they get front and center on all devices.

Will Google let that happen?

Probably not without a fight. The whole purpose of the free Android giveaway is to route as many users as possible to its search pages, where it gets millions of eyeballs on its advertisements — and Google’s ad business, especially on mobile, is already showing weaknesses.

TIME apps

Here’s Why You’ll Love the New Outlook App

A logo sign at the headquarters of Microsoft in Redmond, Wash.
A logo sign at the headquarters of Microsoft in Redmond, Wash. Tripplaar Kristoffer/SIPA—AP

The app still has room for growth and improvement. So don't delete OWA just yet

This story was originally published at the Daily Dot.

After Microsoft acquired email app Accompli for $200 million in December 2014, the endgame for the acquisition was pretty clear: use the established email client to bring Outlook to Android and iOS.

Outlook has been noticeably absent for mobile, especially as the rest of the Office suite has made its transition to the non-Windows platforms. While it doesn’t have the fanfare that a Gmail has, nor the new glow of all the messaging apps that threaten the concept of email entirely, Outlook has plenty of dedicated users who have adopted the email client as a way of life. It is as common in the workplace as any office supply.

Now it can finally be a part of Android and iOS user’s mobile desk. Given how ubiquitous Outlook is for people working for companies and organizations that swear by the platform, downloading the app will be inevitable. Will it also be painful? Here’s what you’ll love (or hate) about the new Outlook app.

Cross platform, finally

Outlook has never really conquered mobile. While millions may use the Microsoft-made email client, phones from the company spend more time on the shelf at the store than in people’s pockets. Even Windows diehards have an Android or Apple handset. Ever since Microsoft has stopped trying to punish those people by withholding their products from them and instead embracing them, they’ve racked up over 80 million downloads.

Outlook will increase those totals and probably would have made more sense as the first app to make the jump instead of the last. Then again, it’ll also help push people away from the desktops and laptops running Windows. And suspiciously, the new Outlook isn’t available for Windows Phone users yet. Could Microsoft be abandoning the hardware business altogether to focus on making apps?!

Read the rest of the story at the Daily Dot.

TIME Video Games

This Is the Most Exciting Star Wars Development Yet

You can now fly X-Wings and the Millennium Falcon

Arcades aren’t quite dead yet, at least according to Disney and Bandai Namco. The two companies have launched an immersive new Star Wars arcade game called Star Wars: Battle Pod that lets players pilot iconic vehicles like the Millennium Falcon, an X-Wing, and Darth Vader’s TIE Advanced. The massive, 1200-pound cabinet features a 18-degree curved screen, as well as a chair that rumbles on impact and air blasts to mimic flight. The game recounts specific, iconic scenes like the Battle of Hoth (yes, you can fly a Snowspeeder) and the destruction of the Death Star II. Check out the video above for some behind-the-scenes footage of the development of the game.

Star Wars: Battle Pod launched in U.S. arcades this January and will arrive in other countries later in the year. Those who can’t manage to find one of these beauties out in the wild will have to be content playing the still-excellent Rogue Squadron for Nintendo 64.

TIME Super Bowl

How to Watch the Super Bowl Online for Free

Super Bowl
Cornerback Richard Sherman #25 of the Seattle Seahawks takes the field for the 2014 NFC Championship against the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field on January 19, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. Jonathan Ferrey—Getty Images

Cord-cutters rejoice

In years past, trying to watch the Super Bowl online might have left you feeling deflated. But this year the cord-cutters among us have lots of solid options for streaming the big game.

Let’s take a look at your two best choices:

1. NBC’s livestream. Super Bowl broadcaster NBC is offering up a free livestream of Sunday’s game that starts well ahead of the 6:30 p.m. ET kickoff. And unlike lots of other TV streaming solutions, you won’t have to prove you’re a cable subscriber to tune in.

NBC is airing pre- and post-game coverage, the game itself and Katy Perry’s halftime show on desktop and tablets to promote its new TV everywhere plan. Desktop users can catch NBC’s Super Bowl coverage starting at noon ET Sunday on NBC.com; tablet users should download the NBC Sports Live Extra app for iOS or Android.

2. Via Verizon Wireless. NBC’s free stream won’t work on your phone because of an exclusive deal between the NFL and Verizon. If you happen to be a Verizon customer, you can stream the Super Bowl on your phone for free if you’ve got a More Everything plan; other Verizon customers will have to shell out $5 for the privilege. Either way, Verizon subscribers can use the NFL Mobile app for iOS or Android to catch the action.

So that’s it! Enjoy the Super Bowl, and remember that if you’re streaming the game on your computer, there are lots of good ways to beam it over to your big-screen TV.

TIME App

Now Your Kids Can Watch 6-Second Videos That Match Their Attention Spans

Resistance is futile

Vine has unveiled a new kid-friendly app that will allow your children to constantly scroll through six-second videos of silly characters on your iPhone while you wait in line at the bank.

The new app, called Vine Kids, is the same as Vine except it’s loaded with age-appropriate content, such as cartoon animals who make funny sounds. You scroll left or right to switch videos, and you tap to hear sounds.

Here’s how much kids love the idea:

Resistance is futile. Say goodbye to your iPhone.

TIME legal

My Drone Landed in Someone’s Yard—Is it Theirs Now?

Inspire 1 Drone Officially Debut In Shenzhen
The 'Inspire 1' drone is presented outdoors on November 26, 2014 in Shenzhen, Guangdong province of China. ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

Navigating unmanned aircraft law can be as tricky as maneuvering in the sky

We’ve all been there before. It’s late at night, you’ve had a couple cocktails, and you want to pull out the ol’ drone for a spin. You know, night piloting. Then, before you know it, a tree jumps right into your quadcopter’s path, and it has crashed onto a nearby lawn in the dark.

So, is your drone a goner? Well, that’s a complicated answer.

First, there’s the booze issue. “We prohibit our members from drinking and flying any type of model aircraft,” says Dave Mathewson, executive director of the Academy of Model Aeronautics. Founded in 1936, the 175,000-member organization makes sure pilots like Drunky McDarkwing take to the skies in a responsible way. In fact, just last month the group teamed up with several other organizations, including the Federal Aviation Administration, to launch a “Know Before You Fly” campaign aimed at educating new recreational pilots. “We truly believe that most of these new enthusiasts who are purchasing this technology intend to fly safely and responsibly, they just lack the guidance that helps them understand how to do that,” he says.

For instance, the campaign urges operators who are flying for fun to keep their unmanned aircraft below 400 feet, stay at least five miles away from any airport, and remain within the pilot’s line of site. “This allows the operator to have situational awareness of the airspace around him and gives the ability of sense-and-avoid that is so prominent — and the number one priority — for all operators in the national airspace,” says Mathewson.

But these guidelines are aimed at recreational users, and aren’t necessarily intended for people who want use a drone to check their gutters for leaves. In fact, according to Mathewson, those uses aren’t even authorized. “It’s an incredibly gray area,” he says. “The FAA will tell you that there are no guidelines under which you can do that, although we also know that there are probably thousands of operators out there right now that are using the technology for various things including checking out your roof. We know that there’s search and rescue activity taking place.”

According to Mathewson, the FAA is working on special drone regulations, but they that have been delayed several times since 2009. he says. “Once these regulations are put in place, this will define how other uses of the technology can operate in a national airspace.” Wait, what? National Airspace? Yes, technically, the air above your roof falls within the National Airspace, which is why you need to keep your drone below 400 feet.

All these guidelines say nothing about using a drone to make a buck. That is another tangle of law and regulations that the FAA has only recently begun to sort out. In general, the FAA requires civil operators to apply for a Special Airworthiness Certificate, something akin to a pilots license, and commercial users have to apply for an exemption to fly for profit. As of early January, the FAA had granted just 12 exemptions in response to the 214 requests it has received — a logjam no doubt made more complicated by drones’ rising popularity. “In fairness to the FAA, this is a challenging endeavor for them,” says Mathewson. “The technology is evolving so quickly that it’s been difficult for the FAA to keep up.”

If this answer to the crashed drone question seems to have veered off course, it hasn’t. The FAA has to consider not just everywhere drones can go, but who can pilot them, and what these devices can do. For instance, though it would seem like common sense anyway, the government agency even had to issue a flight restriction over the Super Bowl. It has also been pulling together resources for law enforcement agencies tasked with investigating unauthorized drone activity.

And when it comes to retrieving your drone, it may come down to boring, old property law, which is largely jurisdictional. Common law states that whoever owns the property where your drone crashes can keep it, until or unless you come to retrieve it. In some places, statutes require that people turn lost personal property over to a government official, and if it has not been claimed after a period of time, the original owner’s rights expire. Now, if your neighbor just so happens to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, you’re in luck. The authorities were nearby, and snapped up your drone right quickly. Also: Don’t ever do that again.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser