Chinese drone-maker comes under US scrutiny
Drone company fosters close relationships in the US as it looks to avoid the fate of other Chinese tech giants
Edited by Gregory Bobillot
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Of all the big Chinese tech companies doing business here in the US, one has so far flown under the political radar, so to speak. DJI makes 70 per cent of the drones sold across the US every year. And yet it has escaped the kinds of scrutiny that have been imposed on other Chinese tech companies such as Huawei.
One reason for that is the company's tech. There simply isn't another maker on that scale of commercial drones. But another is that DJI is extraordinarily well plugged in in US political circles. Its executives sit on key regulatory bodies. It has teams of experts ready to jump at a moment's notice should anything go wrong with a drone owned by the government. And it has even worked hand in hand with a Department of the Interior to develop a drone made specifically for the US government.
Now all that might be changing. I've had several conversations with people in the Trump administration over the past few months who have said that they are concerned that the photographs taken by millions of DJI drones across the country could provide a treasure trove of data for the Chinese to use for spying, should they wish.
So far, nothing much has happened. But the Department of the Interior has grounded its entire fleet of drones, including 121 made by DJI, while it investigates whether they pose a security threat. And senators are considering applying a complete ban to federal government on buying the company's drones. But so far, this is one big Chinese company that can still get a hearing here in Washington.
Now each week I'm going to answer one reader question. And this week, it comes from Stefan. And it's on the subject of Twitter's recently announced ban on political advertising. Stefan asked, "How do you define political advertising compared to ordinary advertising? A Greenpeace, for example, is also political, so should that be banned as well?"
Well, Stefan, this is one reason why Facebook has not followed suit, at least so far. It is very difficult to define the boundaries of what counts as a political advert and what doesn't. This is something that Elizabeth Warren is very concerned about, for example. She tweeted earlier this week that she was worried that under this ban a company like Exxon might be able to advertise about its oil business but a group campaigning against climate change might not.
Now so far we don't know if that's going to be the case or not. Jack Dorsey, the Twitter CEO, has said he will announce the full set of rules later this month. But one thing is clear - whatever he announces on the 15th of November, someone is going to be very angry indeed.
Thanks very much for your question. And if you have a comment or a question you'd like me to answer in next week's vlog, please leave it in the comments below.