Drone maker DJI introduces privacy mode after US Army ban

Dominant global drone maker launches privacy mode that lets users fly their drones without any data exchanged with the pilot or the internet during flight

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 2:53pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 April, 2018, 1:25pm

DJI, the world’s largest recreational drones maker, has introduced a so-called local data mode, which will let users fly their devices without any data exchanged with the pilot and the internet during flights.

The new safety mode could stop internet traffic being accessed to and from its DJI Pilot app, which is designated to provide enhanced data privacy assurances for sensitive government and private corporate customers, DJI said in a statement on Monday. The DJI Pilot app is specifically for drones used under professional context.

“We are creating the Local Data Mode to address the needs of all our business customers, including public and private organisations that use DJI technology to perform sensitive operations around the world,” said Brendan Schulman, DJI’s vice-president of policy and legal affairs.

The mode will provide added assurances for customers with heightened data security needs, added Schulman. DJI currently commands a 70 per cent share of the drone market worldwide.

The app will stop sending or receiving any data over the internet, which the firm claims to add an extra layer of security for operators of flights involving critical infrastructure, governmental projects or other sensitive missions.

The new update could stop sharing information such as flight logs, location, photos and videos to DJI’s company servers came after the US Army in August ordered its member organisations to stop using DJI drones due to possible securities fears.

A US Army document has demanded its users to “cease all use, uninstall all DJI applications, remove all batteries/storage media from devices, and secure equipment for follow on direction”, which cited “increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI products”, according to reports in early August.

In September, The Australian Defence Force resumed the use of DJI drones after a two-week suspension following the decision by its army, saying it was comfortable with resuming their use in unclassified situations.

Drones made by the Shenzhen-based company have been widely deployed by the US Army, including on special operators in Syria. The Australia Defence Force reportedly owns 40 DJI drones which were used in military exercises.

DJI also said in its statement that the drones will be unable to comply with flight restrictions or mandated no-fly zones automatically after the new function is turned on, which explained why the Local Data Mode feature is only open to professional users.

Drone operators are solely responsible for the safety of their flight operation as features that help to enhance the flight safety is disabled in case they become are relied on internet connectivity.

Telemetry data on flight logs such as altitude, distance or speed will remain stored on the aircraft even if the user deactivates Local Data Mode.

Last month, DJI stressed it would enhance its drone flying security in China through upgrading its geofencing technology which helps users avoid cruising above restricted areas such as airports, following the stringent rules on drones regulations in China including a compulsory real-name registration for drones weighing more than 250 grams.