Drone company DJI this week announced a new "local data mode" that breaks any internet connection between the DJI drone and a user's smartphone, which the company said will greatly enhance security and data privacy when users enable the mode (via Reuters).
The announcement comes a few weeks after the United States Army ordered its members to stop using DJI drones due to "cyber vulnerabilities," believed to be related to the drones' ability to save flight logs, photos, or videos onto a smartphone app, and then onto DJI's servers if the user chose to do so.
Brendan Schulman, vice president of policy and legal affairs at DJI, said that business and government customers in particular have since raised concerns about sensitive content -- "such as movie footage or images of critical infrastructure" -- potentially leaking out.
DJI said it does not collect images, video or flight logs from users unless they share them. But turning on the new "local data mode" will prevent accidental syncing with DJI's servers. Its drones do not rely on an internet connection to fly.
Cutting the link between the internet and DJI's controller apps that run on tablets and mobile phones will disable updates of maps, flight restrictions and other data that the controller application receives from the internet while the drone is in use, he said.
Because of the Army's memo, DJI sped up work on local data mode, which it says has been in the works for several months. When activated, the new mode blocks all internet data, so DJI apps will not update maps, geofencing information, newly-issued flight restrictions, "and may result in other performance limitations." But, even without an internet connection, the company's drones can still be piloted as normal.
While the mode will be available for everyone, DJI is focusing on "professional, commercial, government, and educational users" who might fly a DJI drone to capture critical infrastructure, commercial trade secrets, or governmental functions.
“We are pleased about how rapidly DJI’s customer base has expanded from hobbyists and personal drone pilots to include professional, commercial, government and educational users,” said Jan Gasparic, DJI head of enterprise partnership. “As more of these customers have asked for additional assurances about how their data is handled, DJI has moved to address their needs by developing local data mode to provide enhanced data management options for customers who want to use them.”
Local data mode will arrive in an update to DJI's suite of apps by the end of September. If any location has regulations that require drone pilots to fly with the most updated maps and information, the offline mode "may not be available" in those areas.