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DJI says a report proves it doesn’t spy, but that might not be enough for critics

Dominant player in consumer drones faced questions over data handling

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

DJI says it doesn’t send user data to China, pointing to an independent report it commissioned to fight rumors that information from its drones were being sent without the user’s permission. But one expert tells us it might not be enough for DJI’s critics.

China’s tech giants have faced growing scrutiny from US authorities. Intelligence chiefs said they wouldn’t recommend US consumers buy products from ZTE and Huawei. And DJI had its wings (well, rotors) clipped last year when the US banned the military from using its drones, citing "cyber vulnerabilities."
In January DJI issued a statement saying it was committed to protecting user data, and revealed it had asked US-based cybersecurity firm Kivu Consulting to produce an independent report on the company’s data-handling policies.
A screenshot from a summary of the report which DJI says “clearly debunks” security concerns about its products. (Picture: Kivu consulting).
A summary of the report found that “users have control over the types of data DJI drones collect, store, and transmit,” and that “neither DJI drones nor the GO 4 application automatically upload or transmit flight logs to any remote server.”

The report says DJI doesn’t collect any information that can identify a person beyond a name or email address -- which it doesn’t try to verify, and therefore can be faked. And any data collected is sent to servers hosted in the United States by Amazon and Alibaba. (Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba.)

“The comprehensive report clearly debunks unsubstantiated rumors about our products,” said Michael Perry, DJI’s Managing Director for North America.

But one expert disagreed.

“DJI’s claims that it stores user data in the United States will not satisfy doubters,” Eurasia Group’s Paul Triolo told us. “The default assumption in the US is that the Chinese government can and will ask companies to provide data that they collect globally.”

Only a summary of the report was made public, but Gizmodo was given access to the whole thing.

They point out that Kivu researchers found the app does communicate with servers in China via a crash reporting service called Bugly -- but that the report doesn’t specifically identify the location of those servers.

Despite the accusations, the company’s drones remain critical favorites, with the Mavic Air drawing rave reviews. DJI has few challengers in consumer drones: It holds over 70% of the global market.

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