Parrot has used the launch of its new Anafi USA commercial drone to criticize the data security practices of its main rival DJI, which makes popular drones like the DJI Mavic Air 2.
The French drone maker has worked with the US Army to develop the Parrot Anafi USA, which is an expensive commercial drone designed mainly for first responders, firefighters, search-and-rescue teams and security agencies.
And while the Anafi USA is interesting technologically – the rugged drone features 32x optical zoom and a FLIR thermal camera – it wasn’t the main headline from a launch that gave equal emphasis to criticizing its main rival, the Chinese drone maker DJI.
Talking about Parrot drones in general, Henri Seydoux (CEO of Parrot Drones), emphasized that its products are all GDPR compliant, which means that “no data without the user consent is sent to any place, to any server anywhere”. He added: “The data is yours. And we follow completely the rules. Even more important, Parrot is the technology company who writes the drone software.”
This is where the launch became really interesting, as Henri Seydoux went from cloaked digs at its rival to calling out DJI specifically for not only lacking equivalent data security, but suppressing data leaks and even changing data leak methods once they’ve been detected.
“Our software is available to any questions, to any customer that asks us questions about the functionalities of the software. All the functionalities of the software are described and documented and can be shown to the user,’ he said. “And I don’t believe it’s the case for DJI drones. It’s very questionable how much or what exactly does the software from DJI drones.” This was just the start of the criticism, too.
Henri Seydoux then went on to describe how on May 12, the cybersecurity specialist River Loop Security reported a major data leak to Mobtech, a Chinese data intelligence platform. According to Seydoux, “with version 4.3.26 of DJI Go, DJI silently removed the use of Mobtech spotted by River Loop Security.”
Finally, Henri Seydoux claimed that “there are other examples of DJI changes of data leak methods as soon as they have been detected”.
These are pretty big claims from Parrot about DJI, which was recently burned by the US Department of the Interior’s decision to ground its entire drone fleet for national security reasons.
We asked DJI for comment and a spokesperson told us: “DJI takes the security of our products and the protection of customer data very seriously. We have reviewed River Loop’s public analysis of the DJI Mimo app, which consumers use to control our Osmo handheld camera products optimized for social media sharing.”
“We found this report to be inaccurate, outdated and sensationalized as it offered no proof that any vulnerabilities or bad data practices exist,” the DJI spokesperson added. “Our internal Product Security team is confident in its security profile, especially given its intended use to enable the recording and sharing of consumer video on social media,” the spokesperson said.
While DJI has naturally defended its data security practices in the face of criticism from Parrot, this is unlikely to be the end of the tussle between the drone giants, particularly as Parrot is now working closely with the US Army.
In some ways it’s a shame that Parrot focused more on firing shots at its main rival than its new Anafi USA drone at the launch, which has some very interesting features that we’d like to see trickle down to its flying consumer cameras.
These include a 32x optical zoom system, which is designed around two 21MP cameras and apparently lets you see details from up to 5km (or 3.1 miles) away. The Anafi USA is also resistant to both water and dust, which means it’s suitable for flying in rainy conditions, like the PowerEgg X.
With a price tag of $7,000 / £6,500 (around AU$10,500), though, the Anafi USA definitely isn’t a consumer drone, so we’re hoping to see some watered down versions of those features appear in cheaper version that could take on the likes of the DJI Mavic 2 Pro. Until then, we may well see tussles between the drone makers take the form of verbal takedowns rather than product face-offs.