'Fake News' Risk and the Chinese Drone Security Threat
What we knew in 2017 and why we didn't tell you
We live in a time that demands transparency from journalists. Also, we live in a time when partisans regularly accuse the media of having secret agendas, concealing bias and deliberately falsifying news stories.
So, instead of offering examples of some of ENR's most-viewed risk-related stories of 2017—they are linked at the bottom sections of today's Risk Review newsletter—I'll give you an update on a decision we made that affected what you have not yet seen in ENR and on ENR.com.
Two months ago an unusual story popped up.
A Los Angeles employee of the Dept. of Homeland Security had written a long memo in August arguing that Chinese-made drones, which are used widely in the U.S., are an information security vulnerability related to critical infrastructure. A product of the special agent in charge of the intelligence program, the memo warned that DJI Science and Technology, far and away the market-leading maker of commercial drones used the U.S., "is providing U.S. critical infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government" for both military and business purposes.
Numerous details in the memo made sense and showed a lot of knowledge about drones and how they are used. But the memo also contained errors, according to DJI's pointed denial of the memo's charges, including the statement that DJI does not access its customers' flight logs, photos or videos, "unless customers actively upload and share them with us."
That may not be exactly right. One drone authority noted that, when using the DJI GO app, cloud upload is the default setting. If this function is turned off, a customer may sacrifice some functionality and features of the app. A DJI spokesman replied by pointing out that "pilots who use our drones can choose to sync their flight records with the cloud, but the only way to do that is to deliberately push a sync button—and we've introduced a no-internet mode that blocks pilots from being able to push it by mistake."
The Homeland Security memo accused the Shenzen-based drone maker of dumping its products in the U.S. to monopolize market share—a debatable point. The memo also noted that the U.S. Army had issued in August a memo instructing some of its units to discontinue the use of DJI drones due to "cyber vulnerabilities." That point is confirmed.
The New York Times eventually ran the story without resolving all the issues related to it. The story triggered even more coverage than the memo had received on the website of the drone industry and tech news. We felt that, at this point, the story had more to do with economic nationalism than a real threat to our many readers who are using drones and coping with challenges related to cloud-based security. So, we let it go by, but we will watch for any more information on this topic.
Use the links and see for yourself whether we've made the right decision.