China is experiencing some of its most widespread protests in years, but protesters do not have access to a tool they have come to rely on.
Apple’s AirDrop is a file transfer tool that uses Bluetooth to make a direct connection between two devices. As such, it provides a relatively private way to transfer files and information. AirDrop has multiple settings that allow it to be turned off, only accept files from saved Contacts, and accept files from Everyone. The latter setting is especially useful in a civil unrest scenario.
According to Quartz, Apple made a change in iOS 16 just weeks ago that limits the amount of time AirDrop can be set to accept files from Everyone to just 10 minutes. Interestingly, the change was only made to phones in mainland China.
Apple has said it plans to make the change to AirDrop the default worldwide next year. As Quartz points out, however, the timing and China-focused scope of the change is incredibly suspicious, given it happened just before mass protests.
It is increasingly looking like Apple may have rushed the feature change to the Chinese market at the behest of the government, in an effort by Beijing to maintain control. Last month’s Bridge Man protest, photos of which spread via AirDrop, may well have given the government enough of a reason to force Apple’s hand and once again rope it into its program of squashing dissent.