Just days after the US Army ceased all use of DJI drones due to their potential “cyber vulnerabilities”, the Chinese company announced a new offline mode, called local data, for their line of drones.
Two weeks ago, a memo by the US Army surfaced which gave the order to cease all use of DJI drones immediately (read our original post on that matter here). Although it’s unclear what these “cyber vulnerabilities” were, it didn’t take long for DJI to react. Just 12 days later, on the 14th of August, DJI announced the so-called local data offline mode for their line of drones and apps, which will be rolling out over the coming weeks.
Local Data – An Offline Mode for DJI Drones
Once the offline mode is activated, all communication between the mandatory DJI Go 4 app and the company servers will be muted. Although the company claims that this feature has been made available due to constant customer request, there might be more to it. To me, the short time between the security concerns raised by the US Army and the release of this offline mode seems like more than just a coincidence. But maybe it’s just that: coincidental. Who am I to judge here?
Here’s what Brendan Schulman, DJI Vice President of Policy and Legal Affairs has to say about this new local data mode:
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.
This may make you wonder exactly just what is being transferred between your phone/tablet and the DJI servers when not in local data mode. Brendan Schulman again:
DJI recognizes the importance of data privacy to its customers. DJI does not collect or have access to user flight logs, photos or videos unless the user chooses to share those by syncing flight logs with DJI servers, uploading photos or videos to DJI’s SkyPixel website, or physically delivering the drone to DJI for service.
So, what kind of data does the app pull from the server, you might ask? The data connection is mostly used to pull the latest maps and geofences. In the upstream direction it will send flight data, including telemetry but – as mentioned above – this is only the case if the user chooses to sync this data with the app. As standard the sync is set to ‘on’, though. You can read the full official statement by DJI on that matter here.
Opportunities and Risks
While the implementation of an offline mode seems like an advantage that gives you, the user, more control over your drone – you won’t be restricted to use your drone in certain no-fly zones, for example – it might get pretty dangerous pretty quickly. Remember that being able to fly wherever you want won’t excuse you from being liable for any damage your drone might cause.
Also, once in that local data offline mode, you won’t get any updates on maps, geofences, flight restrictions or other updates whatsoever. Please keep this in mind when engaging that mode!
What are your thoughts about this move by DJI? Is it a long-overdue update or just a panicky response to that US Army memo which might result in more customers? Let us know in the comments below!