Friday, November 11, 2022

AirDrop “Everyone” Limit in China

Filipe Espósito:

Apple today released iOS 16.1.1 for all users. While the release notes for the update say nothing about new features or major changes, there’s a significant one coming for users in China.

Jess Weatherbed:

Apple has placed time restrictions on AirDrop wireless file-sharing across iPhones in China after the feature was used by protesters to share images opposing the Chinese government, Bloomberg reports.

The “Everyone” option in Airdrop is now limited to a ten-minute window for users in China. After the ten minutes have passed, AirDrop’s device-to-device sharing will switch back to “Contacts Only,” making it harder to distribute content to strangers en masse. These new time restrictions have been introduced by Apple just weeks after the service was used to spread posters opposing president Xi Jinping.

Nick Heer:

A weird quirk of this change is that, absent the above context, adding a timeout to the “Everyone” setting for AirDrop is actually a good idea. Some people have reported receiving unwanted AirDrops in public, a story which CNBC illustrated with a stock photo of a “senior man surprised at tablet”. Indeed, Apple told Mark Gurman of Bloomberg that it will be rolling out the feature for all iPhones — but it would not say why this change was added to a routine security update only for users in China.


Update (2022-11-30): Tibor Martini (via Hacker News):

Apparently a lot of chinese dissidents used AirDrop to share information (because you don’t need internet for it and thus it can’t be censored).

John Gruber:

You don’t have to be Kreskin to surmise that Apple made this change at the behest of the CCP.

5 Comments RSS · Twitter

This is such absolute crap and hypocrisy from them. Can you imagine the outcry if they did this to stifle dissent in a rich western country?

(putting aside the fact that having Everyone mode turned on indefinitely has long been known to be open to abuse and it was probably something that should have had a time limit anyway, so this change will actually be a good thing for most users...)

Apple could easily have made this change for all countries at the same time, thereby hiding the fact that the change, made now, had anything to do with China, while also avoiding accusations that they were doing the wrong thing by their Chinese users.

The fact that they didn't do that is clearly a deliberate strategy - akin to a "warrant canary" - and instead draws renewed attention to the specific Beijing Haidian district bridge protest that upset the Chinese government so much. It's entirely possible the Chinese government forced Apple to make the change under a 'national security' law where Apple was legally prevented from mentioning it, so this was their way of making it obvious without having to say anything.

As you can see, most of the news stories about this change mention China and the protest, so I'd say Apple's approach was a success.

Chances of Tim Cook doing anything to upset China: 0%

If it is known that "Everyone" is so problematic, it certainly isn't my experience—I value being able to leave it that way indefinitely, and be able to conveniently accept requests for e.g. contact info from those with iPhones, and I have only recalled one instance of a completely unsolicited and probably accidental photo share. YMMV but I would be annoyed if the feature went away. And I think that idea that Apple would intentionally differentiate the feature just for China for PR reasons is giving them just a bit too much credit.

If you haven't experienced it, maybe you’re not the typical target of such creepy behaviour? Or maybe you've been lucky. But the issue has been widely reported for years and there's even a Wikipedia article with examples...

AirDrop’s current design of immediately showing a modal preview image is one that allows for easy abuse if someone forgets to turn off "Everyone" mode.

As for 'PR reasons', well they’re not getting any good PR out of only introducing for Chinese users first. Look at the criticism they’ve received already - if they’d wanted to avoid bad publicity they would have simply changed it for all countries at the same time and no one would have been any the wiser. By doing it this way, they're taking a PR hit, but we have the knowledge it's related to its use in China.

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