China cracks Apple AirDrop’s security to curb the spread of ‘inappropriate content’

China cracks Apple AirDrop’s security to curb the spread of ‘inappropriate content’

A state-backed institute in China has reportedly developed a new method for identifying users who send messages using Apple’s AirDrop feature. The new method has raised questions about privacy and the government’s wider effort to control online content.

According to an online post by the Beijing Judicial Bureau, the institute has developed “a technological breakthrough” that can decrypt an iPhone’s encrypted device log to uncover the phone numbers and emails of airdrop senders. 

According to a Bloomberg report, the identification method has enabled police to identify suspects involved in posting “inappropriate comments” and other “potentially harmful influences.” The report did not mention any arrests.

Concerns surrounding the user identification method

According to the report, critics have claimed that unauthorised decryptions of device logs violate users’ privacy and create an unsafe environment for online monitoring. The possibility of identifying users of AirDrop can also impede freedom of expression, particularly in sensitive political matters. This could further damage Apple’s relations with the Chinese authorities and affect its business operations in China.

Why Apple restricted AirDrop in China

The news reignites the debate about AirDrop. AirDrop is a popular file-sharing app that allows users to quickly share files between Apple devices.

In 2019, AirDrop was used by Hong Kong protesters to share pro-democracy messages in the city. The use of AirDrop by protesters raised concerns that it could be used to circumvent censorship.

Apple has not responded to the claims. The company has previously restricted AirDrop on Chinese iPhones in 2022, likely due to similar concerns.

The development also raises more questions about the future of Apple’s business in China. The Cupertino-based company is already subject to stringent content regulations on platforms such as Apple TV and Books.

In addition, the company faces growing pressure from government agencies to prohibit foreign devices from being used in the workplace, which could result in a potential drop in iPhone sales.