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Flying drone Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images

Chinese Drone Maker Adds Privacy Mode to Appease Military Users

Drones from DJI will now have a local data mode for high security users who balked earlier about a lack of in-flight security controls.

Chinese drone maker DJI now includes a privacy mode in its drone app to allow users to prevent the devices from sending or receiving sensitive data while in flight after military officials banned the use of the drones in August due to security concerns.

The new security capabilities add a Local Data Mode to the DJI Pilot app, which will stop all internet traffic to and from the app and drone, bolstering security for sensitive government or enterprise users, including the military. DJIunveiled the enhanced data security feature in a recent announcement.

The Local Data Mode will be available in the next update on the DJI Pilot app for use on DJI's proprietary, pre-configured CrystalSky tablets and for use on select Android tablets, according to the company. The updated app will stop sending or receiving any data over the internet when a user places it in Local Data Mode, adding an additional layer of security for operators of flights involving critical infrastructure, governmental projects or other sensitive missions.

"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," Brendan Schulman, the company's vice president of policy and legal affairs, said in a statement. "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."

Photos and videos captured by the user will still be stored on the drone's SD memory card, even if it is used in Local Data Mode, allowing operators to gather the information they seek with the drones. They will be shared with others now only if the user uploads them to DJI's SkyPixel user community, social media or other websites, according to the company.

Because the Local Data Mode blocks all internet data transmissions, operators will have to closely monitor the operation of the drone to ensure its proper positioning and compliance with flight rules, since it will not be reporting that information over the internet.

The new mode can be activated by clicking its button in the DJI Pilot app and entering a password. The password will again have to be entered to deactivate the Local Data Mode when desired. Drones will not get firmware updates when the mode is activated, so users should deactivate the setting to perform needed updates on a regular schedule.

DJI develops and manufactures civilian drones and aerial imaging technology for personal and professional use, including expertise in flight-control technology and camera stabilization. DJI products are used by customers in more than 100 countries in fields including filmmaking, construction, emergency response, agriculture, conservation and more.

The new capability comes after the U.S. Army placed a temporary halt on DJI drone usage due to concerns about possible cyber vulnerabilities, according to an earlier report by The Verge. The U.S. Army had previously issued some 300 exemptions to allowing its troops to fly DJI drones on various missions, according to the story.

DJI did not respond to an email inquiry from ITPro for more information about the matter.

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