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Chinese Drone Firm DJI Developing No-Internet Mode Following Army Ban

August 15, 2017, 11:26 AM UTC

DJI Technology, the maker of popular consumer drones including its Phantom line, is developing a new offline mode that it says will help it sell to privacy-conscious enterprise and government customers.

The move comes less than two weeks after the U.S. Army ordered its staff to stop using the Chinese manufacturer’s drones due to “cyber vulnerabilities.”

The company’s pilot app connects to its servers to do things like updating maps and real-time information about flight restrictions that exist in certain areas. However, this connection may put off buyers who have high security requirements around their drone usage.

DJI said on Monday that it was therefore developing a “local data mode” for its products, that stops the sending and reception of information over the internet. The company said this would prove useful when dealing with critical infrastructure, sensitive government activities, and enterprise use cases where trade secrets might be involved.

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“DJI is committed to protecting the privacy of its customers’ photos, videos and flight logs. Local data mode will provide added assurances for customers with heightened data security needs,” DJI policy and legal affairs chief Brendan Schulman said in a statement.

The statement also stressed that DJI’s drones do not “collect or have access to user flight logs, photos or videos unless the user chooses to share those by syncing flight logs with DJI servers, uploading photos or videos to DJI’s SkyPixel website, or physically delivering the drone to DJI for service.”

When the U.S. Army ordered the DJI drones to be grounded, it did not specify which vulnerabilities it was worried about. A drone publication called sUAS News, which had previously secured and published the original Army memo banning the devices, reported on Monday that a further memo had been circulated on Friday, saying the use of DJI equipment would be allowed again “once some conditions have been met.”

The publication noted back in May that DJI’s Go App connects to servers in the U.S., China and Hong Kong for data storage and processing.