Are Chinese Drones Spying On You? Debunking Conspiracy Theories

Are Chinese drones spying

Photo by Pok Rie from Pexels

News and Commentary.  There has been a disturbing trend in headlines recently.  Conspiracy theories about Chinese drones spying on communities have cropped up, as emergency services agencies around the world utilize drones in coronavirus response efforts.  Drones have been used to monitor social distancing, disinfect public spaces, perform deliveries, and more.  Chinese drones are not spying on communities, they are providing a valuable service – and the drone industry needs to get the message out, quickly.

The Origins of the Current Conspiracy Theory

The current conspiracy theory stems from last year’s announcements from the U.S. government that they were concerned about foreign tech.  Stemming from accusations that telecom giant Huwei posed a security risk, the U.S. government has proposed that drones be included in efforts to limit the supply of technology tools from “listed countries” including China, despite a lack of evidence that there is any security vulnerability or a clear framework of standards for manufacturers to meet.

Today, Fox News reports that “Drones from China Company Cause Spying Concerns” and The Daily Wire headline shouts “This is Crazy!”  These headlines are in response to DJI’s donation of drones to U.S. emergency services agencies – many of whom chose to use those drones for a new application, monitoring social distancing.  Despite any evidence at all, theorists have tagged on to a general fear and are beating the drum about drones with cameras “spying” on people as they go about their business.  Generally, the drones are being used in public spaces where people are gathering in crowds that exceed current guidelines – on beaches and in parks, where people are exercising or just out walking – making the accusations of spying seem particularly unreasonable.

Why the Drone Industry Needs to Care

Monitoring social distancing is something that we’ve received a lot of comments about – most using the word “creepy.”  The unfamiliar is often feared.  However, social distance monitoring is a good use for drones, keeping law enforcement safe – they don’t have to approach people on the street – and providing a more gentle reminder than an armed presence might provide (the drones play a recorded message.)  The drones also allow police to see further and cover more ground.

The operators of the drones can opt not to be connected to the internet, not to upload data, and in fact are under the control of the law enforcement agencies that use them.  The public needs to be reminded that drones aren’t self actuated robots that can decide to spy on people – they are tools operated by the pilot.

That’s why the drone industry should care about debunking conspiracy theories like this one.  Social distance monitoring may be the first opportunity that many people have to see a drone in action.  The construction site next door, however, may be their second opportunity – and any professional pilot in our network could be the operator.  For the drone industry to thrive, public perception about drones must be more positive.  The next time you see a drone in your community performing any task at all – point it out to your kids and wave.

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Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam or (for paid consulting engagements only) request a meeting through AdvisoryCloud:

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