We are huge fans of DJI and their drones, however there has been discussion lately about secure they are, and if DJI is spying on you. There is no doubt that DJI is a massive data collection machine, obtaining data and imagery from angles that weren’t possible before, but what are the doing with all of this? Is DJI simply keeping logs of all of this information, or are they hoarding it all for an evil purpose? The US Army just made recommendation to remove all DJI drones from service, so with that major announcement, let’s dig into this more and see what DJI is really gathering from us, and come to a conclusion about DJI spying on us.
Access your DJI Flight Record
Let’s start by looking at flight logs captured by the DJI Go 4 app. To access the flight logs, open app DJI Go 4 (or DJI Go if you’re using an older DJI drone), and tap on the 3 horizontal bar icon in the top right corner. A menu will appear, allowing you to click on your flight record.
Once you’ve opened up your flight record, you’re going to be presented with various flight stats, and then more detail about each of your flights. DJI logs each flight individually, split by each time you power cycle the drone. Here is a screen shot of my most recent flights:
I’ve removed a little information for privacy reasons, however under the date of each entry also contains a general location. General locations such as cities or counties aren’t a big deal, however they store much more detail than that (which we will get into later on in the article). Looking to the right you can also see small previews of three photos and videos that were taken during that flight.
So what’s the big deal?
They only keep track of the general location of flight, and a few tiny thumbnails of the photos and videos taken during flight? No, there is way more to it than that. We’re big fans of Airdata UAV (formerly Healthy Drones), and once you sync your logs with them, there is far more information revealed.
Further detail about your flight path and photos
You can see your flight path through the DJI Go app, and where your photos were taken, however we’re able to pull more data from the logs by looking at them on Airdata. As you can see from the log on the right, it shows the yellow flight path, keeping track of exactly where your drone flew, along with altitudes and speeds at each point.
You can also see a preview of some of the photos and video clips from this particular flight below the flight path. Clicking on one of the photos will bring up a low resolution preview of the photo or video, but regardless of it not being full resolution, it’s still being stored directly in the DJI flight logs. Here is a sample of the low res photo that is stored directly in the log:
Not too bad for a “low resolution” photo right? Especially when this photo is being pulled directly off the flight log. According to Airdata, the flight log is only storing the last 4 photos or videos captured during flight.
Further precision about your drone and it’s captured imagery
Looking further into the data that is pulled from the logs, we can see extreme precision in the information saved about your drone and the photos that it’s taken. Take a look at the image to the right, and you’ll see that it shows:
- The precise location of the drone by referencing it on the map, as well as distance from the home point. By showing the home point, it’s obviously recording the location where the photo / video was taken, and then referencing the home point location at take off to determine the distance. The app is not only saving the location of the drone in the log, but also writing it to the EXIF data in your photos when they’re written to your SD card.
- The altitude of your drone when the photo was taken.
- The heading of your drone or camera (depending on what kind of drone you’re using as the phantom has a fixed gimbal, while the inspire has independent gimbal movement).
- The gimbal pitch (angle of the camera) when the photo was taken.
- And of course the photo itself.
Do we have to worry about DJI’s precise logging?
Well, in the example above I don’t think there is much to worry about as there isn’t any critical infrastructure, or sensitive locations that anyone would care about. However, for high sensitivity locations and other targets that may be interesting to those with bad intentions, having all this information could be a disaster.
Don’t we have to sync our data with DJI first?
I know many paranoid pilots that are flying with their devices in airplane mode (or the equivalent), so that there isn’t any data transfer between your app and DJI. That’s not a bad theory, but do you leave your iPad or iPhone in airplane mode 24/7, and never take it back onto a cellular or wifi connection? Killing the app may work, however in this age where people believe that even their Facebook app on their phones are listening to them, killing the app alone might not be enough to stop any data transfer between your device and DJI servers. Let’s hope that you actually have to manually sync data between your device and DJI servers before anything is sent back and forth, and there isn’t anything happening in the background.
Want a free Excel or Numbers based logbook, that isn’t tied to DJI?
So, is DJI spying?
There is no doubt that DJI is logging and collecting massive amounts of data from our flights. Are they alone? No, look at any major online search engine, social media site, etc, and you’ll find that they’re also storing tonnes of data about you and your actions. Is it more of a hazard being that they’re retaining and storing our photos and data from an aerial perspective? Maybe? But do we necessarily have to share it all with them? No, we don’t.
In conclusion, DJI is not spying on you, however they are collecting a massive amount of data from your flights, undoubtedly for flight safety and product development. So with that, you can fly freely, or take precautions as you find fit for your operation, just like the US Army did.