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Apple changes how AirDrop works after it is used in China protests

Virus Outbreak China Apple (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Virus Outbreak China Apple (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Apple has made changes to the way its AirDrop sharing service works, after it was used in protests in China.

AirDrop allows iPhones to communicate with each other directly, to send pictures, videos or other files without relying on the internet. It also allows people to connect iPhones to each other without knowing any contact information, since the phones can simply scan for nearby devices.

Now Apple will no longer allow users to set the feature to “everyone” forever, which allows anyone to send a message using the peer-to-peer service. Instead, iPhone users will be able to switch that setting on for 10 minutes, after which it will change back to only allowing messages from contacts.

The change arrived with a new update that applies only to iPhones that were made in China. The update is thought to be a response to the use of the feature in the country to distribute anti-government information and help co-ordinate protests.

The update arrived in the new iOS 16.1.1, which otherwise did not seem to include any other major features. The feature will only be activated on iPhones that are registered as having been purchased in China.

Apple already offers slightly different software on phones that are bought in China. For instance, users in the country are unable to see the Taiwan emoji.

Apple has said however that the AirDrop change will roll out globally. It has not given any indication of when that might happen.

In addition to its use in protests, the “everyone” setting on AirDrop has led to other criticism. Users have reported receiving unsolicited inappropriate images while in public areas, for instance, which is possible because users can simply connect directly to any phone with the option checked.