Drone-Maker DJI Rolls Out 'Local Data Mode' to Address Security Concerns

DJI's response to the government's cyber-vulnerability fears is now available.

Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Shenzhen-based drone manufacturer DJI had to navigate some controversial territory earlier this summer, when the Pentagon ordered a U.S. military ban on utilizing any of the company’s equipment due to fears relating to cyber-vulnerability issues in DJI’s products. The concern mainly regarded any of the captured data being uploaded to unknown servers or easily snatched out of the air by unwelcome hackers. In August, DJI announced that it would provide an offline mode, or "Local Data Mode," in order to appease anyone whose fears might prevent them from ever using a DJI product again. That mode is now available via the DJI Pilot app update for DJI CrystalSky monitors and several Android tablets.

In Tuesday’s official statement, DJI Vice President of Policy and Legal Affairs, Brendan Schulman, said: “We are creating Local Data Mode to address the needs of our enterprise customers, including public and private organizations that are using DJI technology to perform sensitive operations around the world. 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.” 

Of course, this is a razor-thinly coded response to the Pentagon, and how quickly it seemingly jeopardized DJI’s outward integrity regarding privacy and social-contract. In short, if the Pentagon thinks these drones aren’t safe enough for the military, why should I trust DJI to respect my privacy? It’s the creation of a Local Data Mode and releasing public statements like the one above that comprises the urgency and desperation with which DJI is responding with. They needed to do something, and it seems like they’ve actually managed to turn this back around. The offline mode should do more than enough to let consumers breathe easier.

While in offline mode, your DJI drone won’t detect location (preventing the UAV from automatically following local no-fly zone or flight restrictions it normally receives from external GPS signals). According to Engadget, an iOS-based offline mode, or one for DJI’s GO 4 app, is currently unavailable. The company is observing this initial rollout first, and taking in customer reception before moving forward with future releases.