As you probably already know, in China, social networks are censored. But obviously, Chinese Internet users have found a trick to circumvent this censorship, and share content criticizing the government. Instead of sharing this content on censored and monitored platforms, they used… AirDrop.
According to a recent article by The Guardian, the iPhone’s file-sharing system has been hijacked and used almost like a social network to share materials critical of the Communist Party.
As a reminder, on the iPhone, AirDrop allows you to send or receive files. When you enable this feature, you can configure it to only receive files from your contact list. But you can also allow everyone to receive files.
And it is this mode that would have been exploited, to escape Chinese internet censorship. In essence, opponents would share their digital leaflets to strangers in the public space, using AirDrop.
In reality, this misuse of AirDrop is not new. In 2019, we were already talking about the use of the iPhone function in Hong Kong by protesters.
Nevertheless, in recent days, many media have reported on this phenomenon. And it appears people sharing fliers via AirDrop were inspired by a protester who called for the removal of President Xi Jinping using banners.
Apple updates its iPhone
Anyway, using AirDrop to evade censorship in China will no longer be possible. Indeed, according to The Guardian, Apple intervened, and decided to update its iPhones in the Middle Kingdom, to restrict functionality.
This misuse was possible because many people leave AirDrop activated, and configure the function so that it allows sending files by strangers. But following Apple’s update, this mode will only work for a window of 10 minutes after activation.
The Cupertino company has not yet commented on the subject. And officially, the rolled out update includes bug fixes and security updates.
In any case, this is not the first time that Apple has made concessions to China. In 2019, the apple brand angered protesters in Hong Kong after an app they used was removed from the App Store.
Regarding AirDrop, it is possible that Apple will update its functionality in the rest of the world, later.