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

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.

“Each new piece of information, by itself, is relatively unimportant,” Oona Hathaway, a professor at Yale Law School who served in the Pentagon under President Barack Obama, wrote in Foreign Affairs, referring to surveillance and monitoring technologies. “But combined, the pieces can give foreign adversaries unprecedented insight into the personal lives of most Americans.”

In the drone world, no company is more prolific than DJI: It commands more than 50% of the U.S. drone market, the FCC said in October, and research firm DroneAnalyst estimates that the Chinese company sells about 95% of the unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, targeted at consumers— those priced from $350 to $2,000.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEKView All

Killer Heat Is Here

The record temperatures ravaging India are a warning of global catastrophes to come

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 30 - June 06, 2022 (Double Issue)

Opening the Spigot

Conservatives want to limit social media companies’ power to control content

5 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 30 - June 06, 2022 (Double Issue)

Expanding Access to Mind Expansion

Companies offer guided drug trips on jungle retreats, at city clinics, and in your living room

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 30 - June 06, 2022 (Double Issue)

Europe's Travel Rebound Wobbles

A staffing crisis at airlines, airports, and even the Chunnel left some operators overwhelmed

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 30 - June 06, 2022 (Double Issue)

Better-Odds Babies

Genetic testing companies promise they can predict an embryo’s probable future health. Some parents don’t want to stop there

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 30 - June 06, 2022 (Double Issue)

Are We Still Doing Scooters?

Lime says people are scooting more than ever, but providing urban transit is a hard way to make unicorn-level profits

2 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 30 - June 06, 2022 (Double Issue)

"You Know What's Cool?"

Facebook has spent a decade successfully ripping off its newer, hotter rivals. But this time, it tried to copy TikTok and blew up Instagram instead

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 30 - June 06, 2022 (Double Issue)

Pivoting to Troll

Elon Musk’s incessant posting may do wonders for his ego and clout in right-wing circles, but it has destroyed value pretty much everywhere else

5 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 30 - June 06, 2022 (Double Issue)

The Nudge Conundrum

Ride-hailing companies are gaming drivers. Drivers are trying to game back. It hasn’t been a joyride

10 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 30 - June 06, 2022 (Double Issue)

The Tech Issue: How It Started How It's Going

The market collapse isn't just the inevitable result of macroeconomic forces like high interest rates and inflation. It's also the best opportunity in more than a decade to reckon with the tech industry's excess

7 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 30 - June 06, 2022 (Double Issue)
RELATED STORIES

DJI HALTS RUSSIA, UKRAINE BUSINESS TO PREVENT DRONE MISUSE

Drone company DJI Technology Co has temporarily suspended business activities in Russia and Ukraine to prevent use of its drones in combat, in a rare case of a Chinese company pulling out of Russia because of the war.

1 min read
Techlife News
April 30, 2022

The Pen Is Mightier

Horrified by the war in Ukraine, artisan pen makers across the globe are using their skills to make a difference.

7 mins read
PEN WORLD
April 2022

The Veil Whisperer

Has the secret to upgrading a wedding’s trickiest accessory been in front of your eyes all along?

2 mins read
Town & Country
April 2022

Autel Evo Nano Series

Autel zoom service

1 min read
Stuff Magazine
April/May 2022

THE AMERICAN WEST

ROMANCE OF THE WEST: THE WILD WEST SHO- After the Civil War, the West was romanticized by dime novels by writers like Ned Buntline and stage shows featuring frontier luminaries such as Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickock and Texas Jack Omohundro.

2 mins read
Gun Digest The Magazine
March 2022

Mind Your Mushrooms

Adding fungi to your meals might hold the key to balancing mind and body.

3 mins read
Clean Eating
February - March 2022

EXPLAINER: WILL BURGLAR ALARMS STILL WORK AFTER 3G SHUTDOWN?

As telecom companies rev up the newest generation of mobile service, called 5G, they’re shutting down old networks — a costly, years-inthe-works process that’s now prompting calls for a delay because many products out there still rely on the old standard, 3G.

5 mins read
AppleMagazine
February 18, 2022

Sky's the Limit

"The list of industries in which aviation drones are crucial tools is ever expanding. Drones are the now, and the future, and the ability to operate one is key. We spoke to drone pilot Oliver Lane from Darkwing Aerials, to gain an insider’s perspective of this burgeoning occupation."

6 mins read
Popular Mechanics South Africa
January/February 2022

FASTEST MOBILE NETWORKS 2021

It’s T-Mobile’s year at last. T-Mobile’s new mid-band 5G network is the only nationwide 5G that’s markedly faster than 4G, earning the carrier its first-ever PCMag award for America’s fastest mobile network.

10+ mins read
PC Magazine
September 2021

Net neutrality, right to repair, broadband fees: How Biden's order will affect tech users

The Biden administration’s order encourages independent agencies like the Federal Trade Commission to write stricter rules.

4 mins read
PCWorld
August 2021