Chinese drone maker DJI says study shows it does not spy on users

Verification from an independent study debunks accusations about the cyber vulnerabilities of DJI’s drones 

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 April, 2018, 2:41pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 April, 2018, 10:16pm

Drone maker DJI says an independent study has verified that its users have control over how their data is collected, stored and transmitted, following US government initiatives that have put the operations of Chinese technology companies under a microscope.

The report, conducted by San Francisco-based Kivu Consulting, analysed drones and software obtained independently in the US last year and concluded that DJI did not access photos, videos or flight logs generated by the drones unless users agreed to share the data.

“This comprehensive report clearly debunks unsubstantiated rumours about our products, and assures our customers that they can continue flying DJI drones with confidence,” Michael Perry, DJI’s managing director for North America, said in a statement. 

Shenzhen-based DJI, the world’s largest maker of recreational drones, has an estimated 70 per cent global market share. Its drones are also used by businesses and military organisations around the world.

Drone maker DJI monitoring potential backlash from rising US-China tensions

DJI’s effort to get its data security practices validated has come after the company was mired in controversy last year, when the US Army banned use of its drones.

The US army’s ban was “due to increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI products”, according to a memo. The US Army also demanded to “cease all use, uninstall all DJI applications, remove all batteries/storage media from devices, and secure equipment for follow on direction”.

This comprehensive report clearly debunks unsubstantiated rumours about our products
Michael Perry, DJI North America managing director

To allay concerns, DJI subsequently introduced a so-called local data mode, which lets users fly their devices without any data exchange between the pilot and the internet during flights.

DJI’s Perry said the Kivu study, which was commissioned by the company, marked “the first time DJI has allowed outsiders to examine its proprietary computer code, and the result is the first independent verification of what we have said all along: DJI provides robust tools to help our customers keep their data private”.

The report’s findings, however, has come at a time when Sino-US relations are deteriorating.

Last month, the administration of US President Donald Trump announced punitive tariffs targeting some US$50 billion in annual imports from China as Washington seeks to reduce the trade deficit between the two countries by US$100 billion.  

China’s DJI offers system to track airborne drones as governments tighten restrictions

That was followed earlier this month by the US Department of Commerce imposing an export ban on ZTE Corp, which prevents the Hong Kong-listed telecommunications equipment manufacturer from buying semiconductors, software and other technologies from its American suppliers.

Last week, a US congressional report named several Chinese technology companies, including ZTE and Huawei Technologies, as “nefarious actors” in China, infiltrating American intelligence bodies and critical infrastructure systems through information technology systems and components. 

Both ZTE and Huawei have denied those claims.

On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department was looking into Huawei Technologies, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment supplier, for possible violations of long-standing trade sanction on Iran.