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

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Apple restricted AirDrop capabilities in China ahead of anti-government protests, leaving dissenters without key communication tool as demonstrations spread
Protesters angered by strict anti-virus measures called for China's powerful leader to resign, an unprecedented rebuke as authorities in at least eight cities struggled to suppress demonstrations Sunday that represent a rare direct challenge to the ruling Communist Party.AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
  • Apple limited the use of AirDrop tools in China earlier this month ahead of anti-government protests.
  • The restrictions, which limit sharing via AirDrop to up to 10 minutes, are exclusive to China.
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As anti-government protests continue to swell across China, a key communication tool used by dissenters for organizing and sharing information has now been curbed — Apple's AirDrop feature.

Restrictions to AirDrop were enacted exclusively in China earlier this month after it was used to share posters opposing President Xi Jinping and the Chinese government, and just weeks before widescale protests against the state's strict zero-COVID policies began this weekend.

The changes, which were 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.

Typically, users can opt to receive AirDrop content from everyone for an unlimited period of time. The tool has been used among protesters to disseminate information about demonstrations, and was pivotal to organizing protests in Hong Kong and bypassing China's "Great Firewall" in 2019, Quartz reported.

Apple did not immediately respond to Insider's request to comment.

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

For now, changes to the feature remain exclusive to China, and some say they may be impeding mass protests that erupted across the country this weekend in response to COVID-19 measures after 10 people died in an apartment fire in Urumqi city, Xinjiang.

Some locals are blaming virus control barriers for the deaths of the residents, as videos emerged depicting a far-away firetruck failing to properly extinguish the flames, Insider reported.

Tension escalated on Saturday when a vigil for the victims of the fire morphed into a full-fledged protest, with attendees yelling "we don't want PCR tests" and decrying the government, according to The Financial Times.

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