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A screen shot of AirDrop on Apple’s iPhone. Photo: Shutterstock

Apple restricts AirDrop feature for China users in latest iOS update

  • In its latest iOS update, Apple replaced the ‘everyone’ option for AirDrop with a function that only allows it to work for 10 minutes
  • In 2019, AirDrop was used by young Hong Kong activists to send unsolicited messages inviting the public to join anti-government protests

Apple has implemented a 10-minute time limit for Chinese users of AirDrop, its wireless file transfer function, in a move that could stymie the ability of iPhone users in the country to circumvent Beijing’s strict censorship controls.

In its latest iOS update, version iOS 16.1.1, Apple replaced the “everyone” option for AirDrop with a function that only gives users a 10 minute time limit in which to receive files from non-contacts, according to domestic digital device reviewers. The other two options remain as “receiving off” and “contacts only”.

It is uncertain why Apple made the AirDrop change, or whether it initiated the move or was asked to do so by authorities.

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In 2019, AirDrop was used by young Hong Kong activists to send unsolicited images via AirDrop to subway riders, inviting them to join anti-government protests. Western media reports have also said that AirDrop has recently been used to distribute anti-government images in China.

The update only applies to iPhones purchased in mainland China, the Post learned.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Introduced in 2011, AirDrop enables file transfers by means of close-range wireless communication among supported devices, including the iPhone, iPad and MacBook, and is supported by Apple’s iOS and macOS operating systems.

Chinese iPhone users expressed mixed reactions on the microblogging site Weibo. One Weibo user called “Yikeputaoliangkezi” praised the change, saying “it can help avoid being annoyed in public”. Netizens often complain about receiving pornographic or violent content via AirDrop, especially on the subway.

Another Weibo user, “Woshiyoubing”, said the restriction can “prevent the spread of certain negative political information, instead of just protecting people from harrassment”.

It is not the first time Apple has implemented restrictions based on the geographic location of customers. In 2019, the US tech giant removed the Taiwanese flag emoji for users in Hong Kong and Macau, a year after it had done the same for mainland Chinese.

Separately, Beijing has in recent years enhanced regulations on data privacy. The Personal Information Protection Law, one of the world’s toughest on personal data security, went into effect last November, while the Data Security Law was implemented in September 2021.

Additional reporting by Ben Jiang