Apple has limited the use of the AirDrop wireless file sharing function on devices in China, just weeks after reports that some protesters had used the popular feature to spread messages critical of the Chinese government.
Users of iPhones in mainland China who updated their iOS software this week can send or receive files from non-contacts for only up to 10 minutes after manually selecting a new “Everyone for 10 minutes” option, according to tests performed by CNN’s Beijing bureau.
Users not in China face no such restriction and are able to receive files wirelessly from anyone, including people who are not contacts.
The change does not appear to affect iPhones in use in China that were purchased outside the country, according to the CNN team. Apple (AAPL) told CNN Business the new feature will be expanded globally in the coming year.
The update comes just weeks after reports in international media, including The New York Times and Vice World News, that some residents in China were using AirDrop, which can be used only between Apple devices, to spread leaflets and images echoing slogans used in a rare protest against Chinese leader Xi Jinping on October 13.
On that day, shortly before Xi secured a precedent-breaking third term, two banners were hung on an overpass of a major thoroughfare in the northwest of Beijing, protesting against Xi’s zero-Covid policy and authoritarian rule.
And in 2019, AirDrop, which is effective only over short distances, was particularly popular among anti-government demonstrators in Hong Kong who regularly used the feature to drop colorful posters and artwork to subway passengers urging them to take part in protests.
Reaction in Chinese media to the software update was mixed. News website Sohu.com wrote that the feature was designed to address the specific problem of passengers on subways and buses receiving nuisance messages.
But others criticized Apple on Chinese social media. The US tech giant has been accused of appeasing the Chinese authorities before, including pulling business website Quartz’s app from its store in China over “content concerns” during the 2019 demonstrations in Hong Kong.