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Apple limits AirDrop in China after its use in protests

Apple limits AirDrop in China after its use in protests


The new 10-minute limit will eventually go global, but is currently restricted to iPhones in China.

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A screeshot of AirDrop on an iPhone, displaying the options of “Recieveing Off”, “Contacts Only”, and “Everyone for 10 Minutes.”
AirDrop in China is now limited to just ten minutes of wireless file-sharing for “Everyone” following its use in protests against the Chinese government.
Image: Bloomberg

Apple has placed time restrictions on AirDrop wireless file-sharing across iPhones in China after the feature was used by protesters to share images opposing the Chinese government, Bloomberg reports.

The “Everyone” option in Airdrop is now limited to a ten-minute window for users in China. After the ten minutes have passed, AirDrop’s device-to-device sharing will switch back to “Contacts Only,” making it harder to distribute content to strangers en masse. These new time restrictions have been introduced by Apple just weeks after the service was used to spread posters opposing president Xi Jinping.

iOS 16.1.1 release notes make no mention of the new limitations

The AirDrop restriction was included in the public release of iOS 16.1.1 on Wednesday, despite nothing about it being mentioned in the release notes. 9to5Mac readers were quick to discover that the restrictions seem limited to iPhones purchased in China.

As Bloomberg notes in its own reporting, AirDrop has often been used as a loophole to get around China’s strict online censorship. That isn’t to say that AirDrop is a bastion for free speech though as the feature has also been used nefariously, from grounding planes with fake terrorism threats, sending unsolicited nudes to strangers, and uh, grounding planes with unsolicited nudes. The wireless file-sharing system can be readily abused, and not just by folks who want to troll strangers with pictures of space sloths.

Apple has previously been criticized for implementing changes meant to appease the Chinese government — such as removing VPN apps and hiding the Taiwanese flag emoji for users based in Hong Kong and Macau. 

Apple hasn’t yet addressed why the AirDrop restrictions have only been introduced in China but has confirmed to Bloomberg that the new setting will be made available to global users “in the coming year” as a way to mitigate the receipt of unwanted files.