FlightradarSource: FlightRadar

What you need to know

  • A popular flight tracker has been removed from app stores in China.
  • Flightradar24 has been taken down because of concerns about national security.

A popular flight tracker app has been taken down in China because of national security concerns.

SCMP reports that Flightradar24 has been taken down following a state media report detailing national security concerns:

On October 31, state-run China Central Television (CCTV) reported that regulators recently confiscated hundreds of so-called automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) devices, which are used by Flightradar24 and its peers to capture aviation data. Two days later, Flightradar24 was removed from app stores in China.

The CCTV report broadcast claims that Chinese national security authorities " have discovered that multiple overseas institutions have been trying since last year to recruit hobbyists in China to share aviation and aircraft data with them", an act which is "considered an illegal overseas transfer of data under Chinese law."

The report also claimed that unnamed institutions were providing free equipment and access to data to tempt possible recruits. A spokesman for China's Ministry of State Security said on the broadcast "From our investigation we found that these devices use encryption when they are transmitting and they cover a large amount of data, the purpose of which is exactly to prevent interception by cybersecurity authorities in different countries. This is very clear." CCTV stated that only 300 ADS-B devices were needed to track China's entire airspace and that these were capable of tracking military, as well as commercial aircraft.

Flightradar24 told SCMP that Apple had contacted them to inform them their app had been removed from the App Store, but that it hadn't had any contact from Chinese authorities, and had only seen what had been reported in the news. iMore has reached out to Flightradar24 for comment.

Hobbyists and other flight racking communities spoke out against the move, stating that military aircraft weren't at risk because they could switch off their transponders and that the work of hobbyists and ADS-B equipment reduced the burden on air traffic control.