Is This Drone Really a Spy?
Bloomberg Businessweek|December 27, 2021 - January 03, 2022 (Double Spread)
China’s DJI rules the global market for unmanned aerial vehicles. That has the U.S. worried about national security
Bruce Einhorn and Todd Shields, with Yuan Gao, Zheping Huang, and Colum Murphy
Is This Drone Really a Spy?

To his 80,000 YouTube subscribers, Indiana college student Carson Miller is a content creator who reviews drones. As the U.S. government sees it, Miller and thousands of other Americans who purchase drones built by Shenzhen-based SZ DJI Technology Co., may be unwittingly aiding Chinese intelligence agencies. Miller, who bought his first DJI model in 2016 for $500 and now owns six of them, illustrates why the Chinese company is the world’s leading dronemaker and controls more than half of the U.S. market. “If tomorrow DJI were completely banned,” Miller says, “I would be pretty frightened because I don’t know too many other great options.”

Critics of DJI warn that the dronemaker may be channeling reams of sensitive data to Chinese intelligence agencies on everything from critical infrastructure like bridges and dams to personal information such as heart rates and facial images. But to Miller, consumers face plenty of bigger threats to their privacy. “There are apps that track you on your smartphone 24/7,” he says.

That attitude is a problem for American officials who are seeking to end DJI’s dominance in the U.S. On Dec. 16 the Biden administration blocked American investment in the company, a year after President Donald Trump prohibited it from sourcing U.S. parts. Now lawmakers from both parties are weighing a bill that would ban federal purchases of DJI drones, while a member of the Federal Communications Commission wants its products taken offthe market in the U.S. altogether.

In many ways, DJI has become the poster child for what many believe to be a much wider national security threat: the Chinese government’s ability to obtain sensitive data on millions of Americans.

This story is from the December 27, 2021 - January 03, 2022 (Double Spread) edition of Bloomberg Businessweek.

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This story is from the December 27, 2021 - January 03, 2022 (Double Spread) edition of Bloomberg Businessweek.

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