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China Bans Flightradar24 as Espionage App

The flight tracking service website Flightradar24 uses the signal receiving device “ADS_B” to monitor aircraft and track real-time flight information around the world. Recently the service attracted the attention of the Chinese government, which calls it as a “spy tool.” The application can no longer be downloaded in China.

The Chinese government recently said that ADS_B devices can receive data from military aircraft in addition to real-time data from civil flights, allowing users to send data abroad. According to a report by China Central Television (CCTV), Chinese national security authorities have discovered that, since 2020 several foreign organizations have launched websites and used social media platforms to provide Chinese aviation fans with data receiving devices and other benefits. The purpose was to recruit volunteers to collect relevant data and send it overseas.

The ADS_B device, which Flightradar24 offers to its members, is used to monitor and collect flight data within a radius of more than 300 kilometers by placing it window side. With an Internet connection, the data can be transmitted outside the country.

Chinese authorities have studied the possibility of setting up about 300 ADS_Bs in China to monitor aircraft signals in the country’s airspace. The collected information would cover both civilian and military aircraft. Beijing city’s National Security Bureau said this poses a direct threat to military aircraft. Revealing their whereabouts could lead directly to failure with “incalculable consequences.” The authorities reportedly have launched investigations, picked up hundreds of illegal devices, and temporarily confiscated the equipment of aviation fans.

Flightradar24 was founded in Sweden in 2006 to provide real-time flight details, including basic flight information, the path of the flight, the altitude and the airspeed. In the past, media outlets would use the service to search for information about plane crashes.

Source: Radio Free Asia, November 5, 2021