Apple has restricted the AirDrop wireless file-sharing feature on iPhones in China after the mechanism was used by protesters to share images with other iPhone owners, reports Bloomberg.
AirDrop allows you to quickly share files such as images, documents or videos between Apple devices. The latest version, iOS 16.1.1, released on Wednesday, limits the period in China in which files can be received from users outside the address book to 10 minutes. Previous versions of iOS did not limit this time.
After the 10-minute period, the function returns to the mode where files can only be received from contacts. This means that people won’t be able to receive an AirDrop from a stranger unless they’ve turned it on within the previous few minutes. This complicates the task for those looking to distribute content and reach people in a subtle way.
Apple has made changes to AirDrop on iPhones sold in China. This came after protesters in the country used the service to distribute posters targeting Xi Jinping and the Chinese government.
Apple did not comment on why the changes were made in China, but said it plans to roll out the new AirDrop settings globally as early as next year. The idea is to mitigate unwanted file sharing, the company said.
But the Cupertino-based tech giant has come under fire in the past for making changes to iPhone features to appease the Chinese government. For example, in 2019, Apple was accused of hiding the Taiwanese flag emoji from users in Hong Kong and Macao. The company has also hidden in the Chinese version of the App Store VPN apps that are commonly used to bypass internet censorship in China. Many of Apple’s own services are also unavailable in China – the world’s largest smartphone market – including Apple TV+, the iTunes Store, paid podcasts, Apple Books and Apple Arcade.
China is facing a growing challenge in overcoming social discontent due to the Zero COVID policies. Last month, anti-government slogans appeared in cities such as Beijing ahead of key Communist Party meetings. During pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, activists used AirDrop to spread their political demands. China pledged to stick to its strict COVID Zero policy over the weekend, ruining hopes that Beijing could loosen controls after its party congress.
It’s worth noting that the AirDrop feature has received mixed reviews since its release on the iPhone with iOS 7 in 2013, as it was often misused. Over the past year, there have been several reports of flight delays or cancellations due to passengers sending false terroristic threats or pornographic images to other people on board.