You Don't Own What You Bought: Drone Maker Updates Firmware On All Drones To Stop Any Flights In DC

from the well-that's-not-very-nice dept

You may have heard the news recently about how a drunk employee of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (can't make this crap up) accidentally flew a DJI Phantom II drone onto White House property, leading to a general collective freakout over the security implications of these personal helicopters. In response to this, President Obama has called for more drone regulations -- which may or may not make sense -- but it needs to be remembered that the FAA has been refusing to actually release any rules for quite some time.

But beyond the call for regulations, the drone's maker, DJI has decided to do a little self-regulation in the form of automatically pushing out some new firmware that blocks the drone from flying in downtown DC:
"The updated firmware (V3.10) will be released in coming days and adds a No-Fly Zone centered on downtown Washington, DC and extends for a 25 kilometer (15.5 mile) radius in all directions. Phantom pilots in this area will not be able to take off from or fly into this airspace."
Even if you think it's perfectly reasonable to ban drone flights in downtown DC (a different discussion for a different day...), it should be very concerning that the company you bought your product from can magically make it that much less useful on demand without you being able to do a damn thing about it. What if you happen to live in that no-fly zone, and you bought it to use for personal reasons at a local park. You're completely out of luck because an overreaction resulted in the company breaking something you thought you bought.

Sometimes, the fact that devices you buy can be updated on the fly has benefits -- like the stories of Tesla upgrading its cars to make them better even long after people bought them. That's neat. But, it still seems immensely troubling that something you bought can be turned into a paperweight (in certain areas) by the company you bought it from.

Filed Under: control, drm, drones, firmware, no fly zone, ownership, washington dc
Companies: dji

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  1. icon
    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), 29 Jan 2015 @ 2:24pm


    Yes, but they don't limit the no-fly zones to 15 miles around DC. I'm fairly sure it's a violation to fly over the White House. I'm fairly sure it's not a violation to fly 15 miles away from the White House.

    Plus, it's not DJI's place to set these limitations. It's the FAA's place.

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