DJI warns of fake DJI drone apps on Google Play Store that steal your money

Aug 10, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

DJI warns of fake DJI drone apps on Google Play Store that steal your money

Aug 10, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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DJI has posted an announcement to its forums after a number of users have reported downloading fake apps from the Google Play Store. The apps are said to present both potential security risks and scams that take your money.

According to one report, a user downloaded a fake DJI Fly app from the Google Play Store where he was to be charged $40 after a free “3-day trial”. Fortunately, Google refunded, but the risks are still out there for others.

Why not get it from the Play Store?

DJI’s app was removed from the Google Play Store at the end of 2021. While DJI doesn’t appear to have ever made an official statement on the matter, the common belief is that it’s due to various blacklists in the USA that prevent American companies – in this case, Google – from working with Chinese companies – DJI.

Whatever the reason, shortly thereafter, DJI made the Android app available as an APK file that you could download and manually install into your Android device. While Android allows this, it’s not generally recommended, as it’s not been checked by anybody for potential security risks or other issues.

It’s ironic, then, that the Google Play Store is now hosting fake DJI apps that put user security – and their Google Wallets – at risk.

How these got past the checks and made it into the Google Play Store, I’ve no idea. These fake even claim to be produced by “DJI TECHNOLOGY CO. LTD”, along with their logo. This is the same name they used to use on their apps before they were removed from the Play Store.

The fact that it was approved at all begs a couple of obvious questions.

  1. How did Google manage to let this through without checking that it was actually DJI who published it?
  2. And even if they did believe it was the real DJI who created the app… If they’re banned from the Play Store, why did it not get automatically rejected?

I highly doubt Google will ever provide a public or satisfactory answer to either of these questions.

What do these fake apps do?

Users report that fake apps, which claim to have been released by DJI, often provide the functionality one expects when flying a drone. However, there’s no telling what they’re doing under the hood. Or, somebody may have simply listed it with a price tag to rip off as many people as possible for a low value each.

At least one user has posted that they were to be stung with a $40 bill after using the app for three days as part of its free “trial”. If you’ve got a few hundred users around the world who fork over $40, that adds up really quickly.

Small fraud and theft transactions are usually refunded, and nothing is ever done to the person who’s actually behind the apps. Google refunds the few thousand dollars the app has made back to its Android customers and then bans the app, eating the loss.

The apps appear to resurface regularly, however, popping back up again a few weeks after being removed by Google. So, DJI’s bringing it to their users’ attention via the DJI forum post.

Where should I get the DJI Fly app?

Well, given that you can’t get it in the Google Play Store, there’s only one reliable place to download it. That’s the DJI website. While it has been mirrored and hosted on countless other websites out there, as with these fake apps, you’ve really no idea what the apps are doing.

Downloading an APK file and tweaking it to do something nefarious isn’t too terribly difficult for those experienced in such things. So, always download it directly from the DJI website.

Interestingly, despite DJI’s notable absence from the Google Play Store, they’re still on the Apple App Store. If Apple ever decides to follow suit and ban DJI like Google has, then DJI might have a problem.

It’s easy to download and install apps manually outside of the Google Play Store with an Android device. But with an iPhone? Not so much. If that disappears from the App Store, you’d likely need to jailbreak your phone to install it.

The moral of the story is as with all scams. Be very careful what you install. Make sure to read and check the app properly before you install it, even if it does come from the Google Play Store. In fact, if it comes from the Google Play Store, it’s definitely not the legit DJI Fly app. But generally speaking, for any app, when you’re looking at it on the Play Store, check it’s legit before you download and install it.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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One response to “DJI warns of fake DJI drone apps on Google Play Store that steal your money”

  1. Sam Yew Avatar
    Sam Yew

    OCBC not all apps from play store is safe.