Has Apple bowed to Chinese government pressure? AirDrop messaging now limited for local protestors

Purple iPhone 12
(Image credit: iMore)

Apple has reportedly altered the way AirDrop works in China in an attempt to limit the spread of posters opposing Xi Jinping and the Chinese government. The change will also be rolled out to international iPhones in the coming year, Apple says.

The change will limit the amount of time an iPhone can receive files from anyone over AirDrop to just 10 minutes. Previously, there was no time limit.

Time out

Bloomberg reports that the iOS 16.1.1 update added the tweak to Chinese iPhones this week. Once the ten-minute time limit expires, iPhones revert to only allowing files to be received from people who are listed in the Contacts app. The ten-minute timer can be started again, but that requires manual action. "That means that individuals won’t be able to get an AirDrop transfer from a stranger without actively turning on the feature in the preceding few minutes," the report notes.

The report also points out that Chinese people have been using AirDrop "to sidestep China’s strict online censorship" by sending anti-government posters to people, presumably without their explicit permission. That lack of explicit permission is likely the reason that Apple will also roll the feature out internationally, too.

AirDrop has often been used by people to send photos to unwitting recipients on public transport, for example, and this new time limit would help to prevent that.

Regardless of the international use case for the change, Apple is likely to draw fire for launching it in China initially. Apple hasn't confirmed that the move was at the request of the Chinese government, but it did confirm to Bloomberg that it was done  "to mitigate unwanted file sharing."

AirDrop has long been one of the best iPhone file transfer methods available to users, especially with the slow transfer speeds offered by Lightning. This new change will likely be a net benefit for many, but that won't stop accusatory fingers being pointed at Apple for the way it's been rolled out.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.