China: Apple reportedly restricted AirDrop file-sharing ahead of mass anti-lockdown protests
"Apple hobbled a crucial tool of dissent in China weeks before widespread protests broke out" 27 November 2022
Anti-government protests flared in several Chinese cities and on college campuses over the weekend. But the country’s most widespread show of public dissent in decades will have to manage without a crucial communication tool, because Apple restricted its use in China earlier this month.
AirDrop, the file-sharing feature on iPhones and other Apple devices, has helped protestors in many authoritarian countries evade censorship. That’s because AirDrop relies on direct connections between phones, forming a local network of devices that don’t need the internet to communicate. People can opt into receiving AirDrops from anyone else with an iPhone nearby.
That changed on Nov. 9, when Apple released a new version of its mobile operating system, iOS 16.1.1, to customers worldwide. Rather than listing new features, as it often does, the company simply said, “This update includes bug fixes and security updates and is recommended for all users.”
Hidden in the update was a change that only applies to iPhones sold in mainland China: AirDrop can only be set to receive messages from everyone for 10 minutes, before switching off. There’s no longer a way to keep the “everyone” setting on permanently on Chinese iPhones. The change, first noticed by Chinese readers of 9to5Mac, doesn’t apply anywhere else. [...]
Apple didn’t respond to questions about the AirDrop change. It plans to make the “Everyone for 10 Minutes” feature a global standard next year, according to Bloomberg. AirDrops can indeed be a nuisance in normal settings: If you opt into receiving files from everyone and don’t turn it off, you might find yourself on the receiving end of unwanted memes or worse. [...]