Sad For AvGeeks: China Bans Flightradar24

Sad For AvGeeks: China Bans Flightradar24

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Being an aviation geek in China just became a lot less fun, as the Chinese government has reportedly banned real-time airplane tracking app Flightradar24. This is part of China’s concerns over foreign agencies accessing data in China. The Beijing Municipal National Security Bureau has allegedly decided that data-sharing services like Flightradar24 pose a security threat to military aircraft.

In 2020, it was discovered that a citizen had signed up to receive equipment from Flightradar24 in order to track aircraft. While Flightradar24 recently started moving towards satellite-based ABS-B tracking, the core of Flightradar24’s network continues to be receivers hosted by thousands of volunteers around the world. In the case of China, the person who had volunteered to help Flightradar24 had equipment seized, as the government wasn’t onboard with this.

All of this unfolded after China’s Ministry of State Security declassified an investigation into the theft of Chinese airline data by a foreign spy agency. It’s not known if Flightradar24 was used for this (in part), or if this was simply collateral damage.

Now, I’m not sure how stuff works in China, but in the United States military aircraft generally don’t show up on Flightradar24, for obvious reasons. So I can’t really see the actual security risk here, but then again, I tend to think that checking my Gmail also isn’t a major security risk, though China seems to disagree. It seems that as of now you can continue to track flights in China using Flightradar24, but I guess it’s just not possible if you’re in China.

Personally I use Flightradar24 just about every time I’m at the airport, to see what planes are arriving and departing, what traffic is like, etc. Do I need to use it? Of course not. But it sure is fun, and entertains me endlessly.

Bottom line

China has allegedly banned flight tracking app Flightradar24, over concerns of foreign organizations accessing data in China. It doesn’t seem like Flightradar24 poses much of a risk of anything, but I’m not China, so…

Conversations (27)
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  1. Fred Guest

    This could very well be a clampdown on data mining. Economic data as published by the Chinese government are generally considered to be unreliable. So, economic analysts tend to resort to other date that are difficult to alter, for instance the amount of light seen by satellites at night over China. I suppose that FR24 is a valuable source for analysts making trying to make sense of the Chinese economy.

  2. LVairbnbhost Guest

    We just had what I think was the Blue Angels overhead in Vegas (insanely loud, whatever it was), and they weren't on FR24, but yesterday I was at the airport to check out the Virgin Atlantic 787 land and a Janet Airways plane landed, and that was on FR24. FWIW.

    1. j s Guest

      ADSBExchange is the place.

    2. Adam Simmons Guest

      We had some A330s run by the French Airforce doing manoeuvres off the coast of Lanzarote recently. They were great fun to watch and did show up on FR24! Strictly military aircraft don't though.

  3. Apso Eyot Guest

    Oh no. Does that mean that the airspace above China will be completely empty on FlightRadar24? Like, would it show no planes overflying it, including airlines that happen to be passing through that aren’t going to/from China?

    1. Alex Wan Guest

      Maybe they can be tracked by satellites.

  4. ImportViking New Member

    Anyone surprised? No one raises hands, as expected. Taiwan shouldn't see these planes coming! Because in such cases Flightradar's the only way to get such data, of course.

    As China's been acting in recent years, I guess that's not the only thing they want to hold under the cover. It's worrying.

  5. NYGuy24 New Member

    The chinese government has been tightening their grip more and more. There is a very real possibility in the next several years they will launch an attack. Probably on taiwain but could be on the Philippines. Historically speaking their philosophy is to attack when they feel surrounded. Doesn't really matter if they think they can win or not.

  6. Morgan Gold

    Sad, shame for the Chinese users.

  7. Tracy Guest

    "theft of Chinese airline data by a foreign spy agency"
    was this legit?

  8. Eskimo Guest

    Why do people keep thinking Air Force One cannot show up on FR24? Even U-2 are tracked by FR24.
    Unless you see a B-2 on FR24 or F-22 over a non NATO airspace, you've seen nothing out of business as usual.

    Maybe someone figured out China's black site and tracking political prisoners transport.
    You think only the CIA runs these operations.

    Could be Huawei's CFO flight tracking that raises too much awareness in China or shown some exploit.

    1. pqflights Guest

      ADSBexchange shows more and doesn't engage in blocking the FR24 does. Most military is not visible on FR24.

  9. Too Many Guest

    Leave it to China and their approach in throwing out the baby with the bath water.

    It's not a good sign as they continue to tighten down on anything and everything they deem as suspect to their political considerations.

    1. Asarious Guest

      Then again… the United States threatens to ban TikTok unless its servers are relocated out of China, and Huawei is persona non grata here.

      If their journalistic narrative and public opinion are anywhere similar to the western world, I imagine they’re very easily triggered at anything that could be remotely used against them maliciously, just like the other way around.

    2. Andrew F Guest

      Found the China sympathizer

    3. ImportViking New Member

      This may come as a surprise to you, but China's not like the USA or Europe where companies get a certain amount of freedom and where privacy is a thing. Chinese companies have a legal obligation to spy on anyone outside of China or to at least collect as much data as possible for the further honor and glory of the Chinese Communist Party.

      Huawei couldn't guarantee that it wouldn't collect and transfer all...

      This may come as a surprise to you, but China's not like the USA or Europe where companies get a certain amount of freedom and where privacy is a thing. Chinese companies have a legal obligation to spy on anyone outside of China or to at least collect as much data as possible for the further honor and glory of the Chinese Communist Party.

      Huawei couldn't guarantee that it wouldn't collect and transfer all sorts of data of its infrastructure networks to China. TikTok is designed to collect data and spy on people. That's why TikTok came with this 'dance' where users are fully visible, especially their face. Attempts by experts to reverse engineer the app have all stranded in the extreme defensive and obscure programming that's being used. And why does that app need access to literally everything on your phone to work?

      It's also known that China sends in lots of government paid trolls on weblogs and media to influence and create conflicts and uncertainy. I guess you're one of them.

  10. David Diamond

    As other commentators have noted, sometimes even US military aircrafts show up on FR24, and the story from the Chinese government is that some Chinese military aircrafts have shown up on equipment provided by some of these companies (they did not specifically name FR24). Given the increasingly xenophobic environment within China, it's no surprise that they'd clamp down on companies like FR24 for perceived risk (whether they be real or imaginary).

    1. Dave Guest

      Hopefully there's notging special with Flightaware

  11. Creditcrunch Gold

    I am sure FR24 administrators will be able to see “blocked” aircraft tracks as it’s FR24 support team that is contacted by military, government and private owners who would rather not be tracked, so it makes some sense that a country like China would not want to allow use in country.

    1. Yanfei Guest

      I have to admit that even the action to rule out FR24 in China seems to be somewhat like tightening control under dictatorship, the FR24 indeed has some risks like what you said. I agree with you because probably that is what I as Chinese see: a huge risk if such data are exposed to military use.

      We are in a neo-cold war between US and China, that is unambiguous truth.

  12. Stavros Guest

    Flightradar24 voluntarily filters out certain military, government and other aircraft.
    www.adsbexchange.com shows every aircraft that emits an ADS-B signal. Very high profile or sensitive military flights will not emit an ADS signal, hence can't be tracked by any website relying on this data source. (see the FAQ on adsbexchange.com)

  13. Joshua Guest

    I haven’t noticed any small aircraft from the us military, but I have noticed refueling and transport planes. USAF transports frequently go by the callsign “Reach”.

    If it’s a routine shuttling or transport mission, why not have your ADS-B on and transmitting for safety.

    Now if it’s some secret squirrel stuff, or performance type training, I can see leaving the ADS-B off.

  14. Ray Guest

    I’ve spotted Air Force One several times on FR24, as well as a few Globemaster III from both the USAF & RAF during the fall of Kabul. If the U.S. are perfectly fine with these things, I don’t understand why the Chinese government wouldn’t be; especially as they use a different satellite tracking configuration.

    How likely would it be to see spy planes on FR24 anyway? And I’m pretty sure if you’re on the lookout...

    I’ve spotted Air Force One several times on FR24, as well as a few Globemaster III from both the USAF & RAF during the fall of Kabul. If the U.S. are perfectly fine with these things, I don’t understand why the Chinese government wouldn’t be; especially as they use a different satellite tracking configuration.

    How likely would it be to see spy planes on FR24 anyway? And I’m pretty sure if you’re on the lookout for military aircraft for military reasons, FR24 wouldn’t be the software you’d rely on.

  15. Keith Guest

    While you are correct that most U.S. military flights don't show up on Flightradar 24, I have run into some exceptions. One day, I noticed a peculiar airplane icon near D.C. Clicking on the icon, it came up "AF2." That would be a plane with the vice president aboard and it was on track to land at Joint Base Andrews.

    1. Sean Guest

      @Keith, except for the fact that this cannot happen. So you are just a liar.

    2. red_robbo Guest

      Sean - hate to burst your bubble, but he's not wrong. AF1 and AF2 appear regularly on all the major tracking sites.
      On what grounds are you calling Keith a liar? Just because you haven't seen something doesn't mean it isn't there....

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Asarious Guest

Then again… the United States threatens to ban TikTok unless its servers are relocated out of China, and Huawei is persona non grata here. If their journalistic narrative and public opinion are anywhere similar to the western world, I imagine they’re very easily triggered at anything that could be remotely used against them maliciously, just like the other way around.

1
Stavros Guest

Flightradar24 voluntarily filters out certain military, government and other aircraft. www.adsbexchange.com shows every aircraft that emits an ADS-B signal. Very high profile or sensitive military flights will not emit an ADS signal, hence can't be tracked by any website relying on this data source. (see the FAQ on adsbexchange.com)

1
Sean Guest

@Keith, except for the fact that this cannot happen. So you are just a liar.

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