The newly released iOS 16.1.1 update features an unusual limitation on the AirDrop to Everyone option in China. On the latest iOS version, iPhone users can only share files with non-contact iOS users or Everyone for up to 10 minutes.
AirDrop is the company’s wireless data-sharing service which allows users to send photos, videos, locations, websites, and more to other nearby Apple devices. The feature uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to transfer data which is encrypted for security. Users can choose to send data to their contacts only or to Everyone.
Previously in China or currently in the rest of the world, AirDrop to Everyone did not have a time limit.
iOS 16.1.1 restriction on AirDrop to Everyone in China released to handicap anti-gov protests
According to Bloomberg, iOS users can not receive wireless data transfers from anonymous iOS senders after the 10-minute period expires. The system automatically limits the data transfers to receive from contacts only. That means users have to turn on the ‘Everyone for 10 minutes’ option for AirDrop after every data transfer from a non-contact sender.
It appears that the limit is created to make it harder for anyone wanting to distribute content and reach people in a discreet manner like the anti-government protesters in China.
Apple made the change to AirDrop on iPhones sold in China. The shift came after protesters in the country used the service to spread posters opposing Xi Jinping and the Chinese government. The use of AirDrop to sidestep China’s strict online censorship has been well- documented over the past three years and was highlighted again recently.
The report also mentions that the company plans to expand the AirDrop limitation globally in 2023 to prevent unwanted file-sharing.
Having said that, Apple has a history of complying with the Chinese government’s, often oppressive, demands like removing a religious ‘Quran Majeed’ app, engraving censorship on political content, hosting apps from a blacklisted Chinese paramilitary group responsible for the Uyghur Muslims genocide in Xinjiang, removing H&M locations from Apple Maps after the retailer cut cotton supplies from Xinjiang region over forced labor allegations, and others.
It would not be surprising if the company introduced the new file-sharing limitation on the government’s request to crush pro-democracy voices. Bloomberg states:
China faces a mounting challenge in quelling social discontent. Anti-government slogans emerged in cities such as Beijing last month ahead of a key communist party meeting. During pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, activists used AirDrop to spread their political demands. China vowed to stick with its stringent Covid Zero policy over the weekend, crushing hopes that Beijing may ease the controls following its party congress.