The more disruptive the technological advances in our society, the more involved are their online reputation. This has happened to the steam engine, nuclear power, the Internet, and it has also happened to the drones during the current decade. When we talk about drones, it is impossible not to think about Star Wars and those epic battles waged by armies of machines, but in reality, the drones are not simply reduced to their military use. In fact, these unmanned machines have been particularly useful in rescuing lost or seriously injured hikers in hard-to-reach areas, as well as in the control of destructive forest fires, and in data collection in nuclear accidents, such as Fukushima, a few years ago. These are some of the thousands of non-military uses of drones, however, no matter how incredible they are, the public is not able to dissociate these remote-controlled crafts from the well-known images of bombings in Iraq or Syria, as well as the espionage activities for war. This is one of the main reasons for the bad online reputation of this industry.
So far, most drones for civilian use are small and – apparently – inoffensive. Although most were built for recreational use by buyers, many of them are used daily for data collection (for example, to measure the boundaries of an extensive property, to measure glacier displacement, to observe volcanic activity, among others.) But despite the technological advantages offered by drones, the market for these products has not been exploited to its full potential, and this is due to the unfavorable opinions of many people on the Internet about the risks to public safety, and the ease with which privacy (both physical and online) can be affected.
Media scandals are common. DJI, the world’s leading drone manufacturer, has been embroiled in an online reputation crisis due to a computer security breach. Because, among other reasons, some terrorist groups have been using drones from this company to execute their actions of espionage and bombing, DJI has taken control measures. Since this year, this Chinese company has developed a software update that forces users to indicate the geographical areas that they want to fly before using the drones; also, it checks the location of users and constantly downloads forbidden zones of flight. In case a user does not download the updates, the drone does not fly more than 164 feet away, or 98 feet in height, nor is it possible to do direct streaming.
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This was partly due to the pressure from the authorities of several countries to comply with local and international standards. Nevertheless, a software already exists that allows DJI drones to fly through forbidden areas. This software allows you to bypass the height limits and even trick the GPS of DJI drones so that they can fly through airports, war zones, or even military installations. The software confuses the GPS of the drone to make it believe that it is flying over a safe zone, and it even makes it possible to break the limit of five hundred feet of height that DJI imposes to its drones.
The main security issue here lies in three main reasons. The first one is the immense availability of purchase of these drones. Years ago, those were items that only millionaires could afford, and they are now increasingly available to anyone (and that includes sociopaths, of course.) In addition, the great distances that these drones are able to travel without losing connection makes them a war tool difficult to control by the authorities. Finally, the versatility of these machines allows, for example, to drop a homemade bomb, or to take samples of chemical substances with the aim of stealing industrial secrets.
Nonetheless, DJI has also been involved in another online reputation crisis, and this time has been due to the bad comments of its own users, especially in our country. Many of them believe that the main motivation for buying the advanced drones of this company is related to the great freedom it represents for them, and they believe that the limitations to the use of these products should come from local laws, rather than the company itself. It is a complicated case regarding who is right: Customers, or those who consider public safety and privacy.
These improvements will never be clean of controversy. Last year, the US army unveiled the production and use of insect-sized drones to carry out espionage activities in enemy territories during the current wars. These drones (some of them, the size of a mosquito,) can take DNA samples, take photos, record audio, and track a person’s location by GPS when getting into clothing or luggage. This can be a powerful weapon, or it can be seen as an Orwellian nightmare.
The problem is that if we compare the safety and privacy cons with the pros drones can offer, forbidding or limiting the use of these devices would mean a technological backwardness that could cost a lot of money and human lives.
* Featured Image courtesy of Visual Hunt at Pexels.com