Chinese authorities have claimed they now have access to a tool that enables them to identify users of Apple’s AirDrop feature, commonly used for sending encrypted messages to bypass government censorship.
China’s Judicial Bureau reported that Beijing’s Wangshendongjian Forensic Appraisal Institute had created a device that allowed them to break through “the technical difficulties of anonymous traceability through AirDrop,” adding that the move had enhanced the efficiency and accuracy of case detection, and helped prevent the further spread of inappropriate remarks and “potential bad influence.”
In a statement, it said that a video had been circulated with “inappropriate remarks,” using the AirDrop function and that others had begun sharing the same. “Therefore, it was necessary to find the source and determine their identity as soon as possible to avoid any negative impact,” officials added.
The bureau also claimed that the project was also targeted at people with “malicious purposes,” who would use the function to send “illegal pictures, videos, audio and […] illegally delivering and spreading bad information to nearby people in crowded places such as subways, buses and shopping malls.”
It was also suggested that since AirDrop does not need an internet connection for delivery, “this behavior cannot be effectively monitored through conventional network monitoring methods,” which is why they say they appointed the lab to assist with their security apparatus.
Why does China want to restrict AirDrop?
Government officials had previously sought to restrict the use of mobile file-sharing services, in order to stop activists from mobilizing. File-sharing services such as Bluetooth and AirDrop have become essential instruments in the country, where the so-called Great Firewall has led to one of the most tightly controlled internet environments.
In recent years, AirDrop has become a popular tool among anti-government protesters for organizing and communicating their political demands. For example, in 2022, activists used AirDrop to distribute anti-Xi Jinping posters on the Shanghai subway, coinciding with the Chinese president’s anticipation of a historic third term as the country’s leader.
Apple has faced criticism for reportedly appeasing Beijing after it released a new version of the feature that limits users to a 10-minute window for receiving files from non-contacts. After this period, users can only receive files from contacts. There was also widespread backlash during the COVID-19 pandemic when workers at an Apple supplier factory in Zhengzhou were forced to work under poor conditions.
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