China’s heavy-handed censorship and close tracking of its citizens is old news at this point, but the Chinese government’s work to develop new and more invasive tracking capabilities will raise some eyebrows. Beijing claims that a government-backed institution has developed a method to crack the iPhone’s encrypted device log to find people sharing “inappropriate remarks as well as potential bad influences.”
The crack allows the government to identify numbers and email addresses of people sharing content via AirDrop. Though we don’t know if anyone has been arrested using the new methods, Chinese police said they have identified multiple suspects using them. The government blog post stated that people had reported receiving inappropriate content on a Beijing subway and noted that the sender needs to be identified “as soon as possible to avoid negative impacts.”
Protestors used AirDrop to send pro-democracy content during the Hong Kong protests in 2019, leading the Chinese government to restrict the features starting in 2022. The country carefully curates the content available to its citizens on the internet and social media and already blocks shows on Apple TV and publications on the Books app. State agencies have also banned foreign devices at the office, putting more pressure on Apple’s sales in the country.
AirDrop lets users quickly send files, images, documents, and other content between Apple devices. While it’s possible to lock the feature down to receive files only from approved people, many leave their AirDrop folders wide open, letting pranksters and others send inappropriate content to everyone in an enclosed space, such as on an airplane or commuter train.