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Apple restricts AirDrop to 10 minutes in China amid anti-government protests

Metro logo Metro 11/28/2022 Anugraha Sundaravelu
iPhone users in China can only set their AirDrop to ‘Everyone’ for 10 minutes (Picture: Reuters/Ann Wang) © Provided by Metro iPhone users in China can only set their AirDrop to ‘Everyone’ for 10 minutes (Picture: Reuters/Ann Wang)

China has been rocked by anti-government protests and Apple has halted a key communication tool used by protesters for sharing information — its AirDrop feature.

Earlier this month, the American tech giant restricted its file-sharing feature on iPhones in China, a month after reports that it was being used by anti-government protesters to share digital leaflets opposing President Xi Jinping and the Chinese government.

With the new changes, iPhone users can only set their AirDrop to the ‘Everyone’ setting for 10 minutes, as reported by 9to5Mac on November 7.

This particular setting allows iPhone users to receive content from other iPhones even if the sender isn’t in their contacts. The new time limit makes it virtually impossible to receive files from strangers.

Typically, this mode had no time restriction and Chinese protesters had started using it as a way to circulate information about demonstrations.

This is not the first time Apple’s feature has been used in organising protests. In 2019, it played an important role in Hong Kong by helping bypass China’s ‘Great Firewall’.

And since AirDrop relies on direct connections between phones, it works even in instances where the internet would be shut down to curb protests.

Apple restricted its AirDrop feature which was used as a key communication tool by protesters for sharing information (Picture: Getty Images) © Provided by Metro Apple restricted its AirDrop feature which was used as a key communication tool by protesters for sharing information (Picture: Getty Images)

This weekend, protesters took to the streets in at least seven cities across China, demanding an end to President Xi Jinping’s rule and his strict Covid restrictions.

The new wave of protests against its government’s draconian Covid measures – its biggest demonstrations since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. But it looks like Apple wants to have no part in helping protesters.

The time-restricted AirDrop feature was reportedly reflected in iPhones sold in China regardless of which country the user’s App Store account was based in.

What is Apple's relationship with the Chinese government?

It’s no surprise that Apple wants to stay in the Chinese government’s good books.

Just this month, Beijing enlisted military veterans and Communist Party members to try to help an Apple supplier address a labour shortage at a major factory.

In 2021, it was reported that Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly signed a secret $275 billion deal with China in 2016 to skirt challenges with government regulators.

The deal vowed to tap Chinese suppliers for more parts for Apple devices, strike deals with Chinese software companies, work with Chinese universities on technology, and invest ‘many billions of dollars more’ than Apple was already pouring into China, according to The Information.

China’s State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping had directed Apple Maps to make the Diaoyu Islands, or Senkaku Islands, which China and Japan both claim to own, look big even when zoomed out. When Chinese regulators said they’d refuse to approve the Apple Watch if Apple didn’t comply, the company ultimately accommodated the demand.

The country is now responsible for roughly one-fifth of Apple’s total sales.

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