DJI, the largest global creator and distributor of commercial drones, has recently been accused of sharing confidential data with the Chinese government. A leaked government document that was shared widely online claimed that DJI shared information regarding US law enforcement and utility companies with the Chinese government.
The company vehemently denies the claims made in the document, stating that they never shared any information with the Chinese government. A statement released by DJI stated that unless customers upload their photos, videos, or logs publicly, they don’t look at customers’ information.
This is only the latest incident that adds to the concerns of those worried about the vulnerability of data in this technological age. We have already seen Apple Inc. make plans to build a data center in China, as well as China’s demand that its companies store citizen data in the country itself.
The document that contained the claims against DJI cited an anonymous source close to the UAI industry. The source claims that drone data is transferred to Chinese computers that the government has access to; the source also claims that this was issued by the US government, though it names the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Los Angeles, California, specifically.
Amidst growing concerns, the American Embassy in Beijing, China, stated that the document was sent to ICE for accuracy and validity tests.
The document also claims that the source is quite confident that DJI is sharing important US data with the Chinese government. It also goes on to say that this information could easily allow the Chinese government to “coordinate physical or cyber-attacks against critical sites.”
DJI says that this American report was full of false claims and was extremely misleading.
DJI was founded by Frank Wang in 2007. The company is the biggest producer of drones used by hobbyists, particularly photographers. DJI has recently begun marketing their drones to those in the agricultural sector, promoting the use of drones in farms and construction.
DJI has claimed that no data on its cloud servers is sent to the government, and does not allow the Chinese government to access the data itself. Kevin On, a DJI representative, has also said that DJI is “not aware of an instance in which the Chinese government has accessed user or drone data for operators determined to be in the United States,” clearly rejecting the claims made in the document. On also reminded the public that DJI has introduced features in its drones that allow users to not upload data to the internet or cloud servers.
DJI has presented their case to ICE, urging them to look into the motives of the source. They believe that it is possible that the source was motivated by competitive or otherwise inappropriate factors, aiming to hurt the company through bad publicity.
This is not the first time that DJI data security has been called into question. In August 2017, the US military stopped using DJI drones due to security concerns, while Australia suspended DJI drone usage just a month later.