After reports of demonstrators using the tool, Apple came under fire for doing so in China.
After receiving complaints that its recent limits were affecting the use of the service in China, Apple is tightening up AirDrop privacy settings for all of its users with the iOS 16.2 update. As major protests against the Chinese government's "zero Covid" policy erupted in the country in November, there were rumors that Apple had started to restrict the use of AirDrop there. Using AirDrop, which makes use of peer-to-peer Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy, protesters have been able to instantaneously share data with one another while evading Chinese censorship.
Protesters and others had been able to readily get files from anyone else by leaving "Everyone" enabled, including people who weren't already in their iPhone Contacts.
Users initially became aware of the new AirDrop limitations in China after the iOS 16.1.1 update was made available. After the upgrade, even if "Everyone" was previously chosen, iOS will change the privacy settings for AirDrop back to "Contacts Only" after just 10 minutes. (The "Everyone" choice had to be deliberately chosen; it was not the default.)
The New York Times and other prominent media outlets had reported that Chinese protestors were using AirDrop to send messages criticizing President Xi Jinping as well as to share information about protests and instructions on how to download VPNs to get around the nation's censors. Shortly after that, the change went into effect.
Some have accused Apple of being involved in supporting the Communist Party despite the company's close ties to China, where it maintains significant production and consumer bases. Others, on the other hand, have maintained that making the feature permanently available to "Everyone" had always posed a security and privacy concern, and that it shouldn't have been allowed in the first place.
In fact, a different news story exemplifies the latter issue: a Southwest Airlines customer recently AirDropped a naked photo to fellow passengers. If it didn't stop, the pilot threatened to land the aircraft.
When contacted for comment regarding the AirDrop adjustments in China, the business stated that it intended to make the capability available to customers worldwide in the "next year." In fact, it's already doing that.
In order to prevent unauthorized requests to receive content, Apple today announced that the release of iOS 16.2 will update AirDrop to automatically switch the option back to "Contacts Only" after 10 minutes. The update was made available in beta today and will soon be made available to all supported devices.