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Apple tackles AirDrop spam, but the motive sounds iffy

Apple’s AirDrop technology is a handy way to quickly share files, web pages and contact details with other iPhone, iPad and Mac users. However, most of us have been on the wrong end of spam from strangers, which isn’t always wholesome.

Now Apple is doing something to combat AirDrop spam with the new iOS 16.1.1 bug-fixing software update that arrived this week. As Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reported, iPhone users in China are seeing a new AirDrop setting that limits the option to receive files from “Everyone” to just ten minutes at a time.

That prevents users of iPhone models purchased in China from keeping the “Everyone” feature switched on indefinitely and should cut down on the amount of spam received. The other options remain “Receiving Off” and “Contacts Only”.

The report says Apple could roll out this feature for users globally in future versions of iOS, which would likely be welcomed as a means of preventing unwanted spam arriving via AirDrop. Generally speaking, if someone turns on the Everyone setting, it’s in a specific circumstance to receive a file from someone who isn’t a contact, rather than opening the floodgates for all and sundry.

However, while the change might have a positive effect when it comes to reducing spam, the possible motive behind the move in China appears to be quite unpalatable. It has been suggested the change is in a response to AirDrop being used as a means of sharing material protesting the Chinese government.

A Vice report last month detailed how people in China had received information advising them to “Oppose dictatorship, oppose totalitarianism, oppose autocracy.” One of the recipients, who spoke to Vice on the condition of anonymity, said it was “the first time I saw or received a medium of any kind that is critical of the current regime. Word of mouth, even from the locals, is common, but never something of this nature.”

If Apple has made the change in response to AirDrop in response as its use as a political protest tool – either at the behest of the Chinese authorities, or independently – this would be of concern to free speech advocates. The Taiwan flag emoji is already absent from Chinese iPhones, due to the countries refusal to recognise the island as a sovereign state.

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