Apple restricted AirDrop capabilities in China ahead of anti-government protests, leaving dissidents without a key communication tool as demonstrations spread

As anti-government protests continue across China, a key communication tool used by dissidents to organize and share information — Apple’s AirDrop feature — has now been curbed.

AirDrop was exclusively restricted in China earlier this month after it was used to share posters opposing President Xi Jinping and the Chinese government, and just weeks before widespread protests against the country’s strict non-coronavirus policies began this weekend.

The changes, first reported by 9to5Mac on November 7, include limiting the amount of time an iPhone user can use the Everyone setting to receive content from anyone — both contacts and non-contacts — to just 10 minutes.

Usually, users can choose to receive AirDrop content from everyone for an unlimited amount of time. The tool has been used among protesters to spread information about demonstrations, and was central to organizing protests in Hong Kong and bypassing China’s “Great Firewall” in 2019, Quartz reported.

Earlier this month, the company told Bloomberg that it intends to roll out the setting globally to prevent unwanted file sharing.

For now, changes to the feature remain limited to China, and some say they could derail the mass protests that broke out across the country this weekend in response to COVID-19 measures after 10 people died in an apartment fire in the city of Urumqi, Xinjiang.

Some locals blame anti-virus barriers for the residents’ deaths, with videos emerging depicting a distant fire engine failing to properly extinguish the flames.

Tensions escalated on Saturday when a vigil for the fire victims turned into a full-blown protest, with attendees shouting “we don’t want PCR tests” and denouncing the government, according to the Financial Times.


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