New DJI feature lets some drone pilots fly with more privacy

DJI Phantom 4 Pro+
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
DJI has followed through on its recent promise to provide an offline mode to enhance privacy for drone pilots wishing to use its machines for what it describes as “sensitive” operations.

Aimed primarily at the company’s enterprise and government customers, the launch of the “Local Data Mode” follows a decision by the United States Army in August to stop using DJI’s machines for its work because of “an increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities with DJI products,” according to an internal memo seen by sUAS News. DJI hopes the new mode will restore confidence in its products among organizations such as the Army.

DJI told Digital Trends in August that it had been working on the feature for “several months,” though confirmed it had “accelerated that effort” in a bid to launch the feature by the end of September.

The new feature can be downloaded as part of the latest update on the DJI Pilot app on CrystalSky and for select Android devices. iOS users will have to wait longer for the new mode.

Activating it will immediately prevent the drone app from sending or receiving any data over the internet. This means the DJI Pilot app will be unable to detect the pilot’s location or indicate map and geofencing information such as No Fly Zones and temporary flight restrictions, DJI said. It’ll also be unable to notify the drone owner of any firmware updates until the system is reconnected to the internet.

The pilot will still be able to receive live video streamed from the drone’s camera, but the stream won’t be able to travel beyond the controller. In addition, whether or not Local Data Mode is activated, media such as photos and videos captured by the drone will remain on its SD card, with the owner free to choose how — or even if — they share the data with others.

DJI’s Brendan Schulman said his company had created the new privacy 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,” adding that the Chinese company 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.”

Now DJI will be watching to see if it’s done enough to allay the concerns of enterprise and government customers in a highly competitive market that is of growing value to drone makers around the world.

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