Apple’s AirDrop technology is a convenient way to quickly share files, web pages, and contact information with others iPhone, iPad and Mac users. However, most of us have been on the wrong side of spam from strangers, which hasn’t always been entirely helpful.
Now Apple is doing something to fight back AirDrop spam with the new iOS 16.1.1 bug fix software update that arrived this week.
How Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman iPhone users in China are reportedly seeing a new AirDrop setting that limits the ability to receive files from “Everyone” to just ten minutes at a time.
This prevents users of iPhone models purchased in China from keeping the “For Everyone” feature turned on indefinitely and should reduce the amount of spam they receive. Other options remain “Receive Off” and “Contacts Only”.
The report says that Apple may roll out the feature to users worldwide in future versions of iOS, which will likely be welcomed as a means of preventing unwanted spam arriving via AirDrop. Generally speaking, when someone turns on the “Everyone” setting, it means that under certain circumstances they receive a file from someone who isn’t a contact.
However, while the change may have a positive effect when it comes to reducing spam, the possible motive looks very unsavory. It has been suggested that the change was in response to AirDrop being used as a means of sharing protest material against the Chinese government.
A Vice report last month detailed how people in China were getting information that advised them “against dictatorship, against totalitarianism, against autocracy.” One of the addressees with whom he spoke Vice said on condition of anonymity that “this is the first time I see or receive media that is critical of the current regime. Word of mouth, even from locals, is common, but never anything like this.”
If Apple made changes to AirDrop in response to its use as a tool of political protest — either at the behest of Chinese authorities or on its own — it would raise concerns among free speech advocates. Emojis with the flag of Taiwan are already missing from Chinese iPhones due to the country’s refusal to recognize the island as a sovereign state.