DJI’s response to data concerns: a “government edition drone”

DJI’s newest drone is probably not for you. It’s for government agencies.

DJI recently announced its new DJI Government Edition drone, intended for use use in high-security situations by government agencies around the world.

The launch looks to be a response to concerns over how data is collected, and to address subsequent concerns from government agencies not to use DJI drones. In particular, a story that the U.S. Army briefly banned the use of its drones because of cyber-security concerns made waves in the privacy community. A story in Engadget reported that DJI had been uploading telemetry, video and audio data to its servers in the US, China and Hong Kong. Just a year earlier, a DJI employee said in a briefing to journalists that the company had been sharing customer data with the Chinese government, (DJI later clarified that information was only handed over if there was a valid legal request from the government). And drones in general (DJI drones or not) have proven to be bait for hackers, who have in the past shown how they can break into the app.

DJI first responded to the Army news by introducing a “Local Data Mode,” which stops internet traffic to and from DJI’s flight control apps. Though DJI said that the local data mode has been in development for months prior to the U.S. Army news, the timing seemed to be more than coincidental.

But now, DJI is offering more than just a software update — it’s a completely new drone solution.

“While DJI customers have always had full control over how the data they generate with drones is collected, stored and transmitted, Government Edition’s unique architecture ensures that drone data – including photos and videos captured during flight – never leave the drone and therefore can never be shared with unauthorized parties including DJI,” according to a statement from DJI.

The new drone is supposedly more secure than any other drone to date. Here are some of the features of the new drone:

  • No Data Transmission – A permanently enabled Local Data Mode within the app prevents data transfer from the mobile app over the internet to third parties (which includes DJI). DJI said this feature makes it impossible for users to accidentally or even intentionally transferring data off of the drone to other parties.
  • Firmware Update Reviews – Users can review firmware updates in electronic isolation before applying them to their fleets, and they can choose when to install them on their drone..
  • Restricted Hardware Pairing – Drones and remote controllers running Government Edition solution firmware can only be linked with each other and are not compatible with other DJI products. Theoretically this prevents the use of unsecure hardware and unauthorized third-party applications.

DJI issued a press release showing how widely their drones are already used, and how the Government Edition meet the needs of the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Aviation Services.

That entity operated more than 10,000 drone flights in 2018 alone, and about 15% of those missions were done using either DJI Government Edition Mavic Pro or Matrice 600 Pro drones.

Of course, you can’t just buy one of these on Amazon. DJI didn’t release pricing publicly, and to get your hands on one, you’ll have to contact an authorized DJI Enterprise Reseller.

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