Apple has come under intense scrutiny for restricting its AirDrop features on iPhones sold in the People’s Republic of China as citizens take to the streets to protest the Chinese government’s strict nature surrounding COVID-19 lockdowns.
In the Nov. 9 iOS 16.1.1 update, the AirDrop feature, which allows iPhone users to share information with other iPhone users without the use of the internet, on Chinese iPhones limited the receiving options from non-contacts to a maximum of 10 minutes. The receiving preference automatically returns to “off” or “contacts only” once the 10 minutes have passed. There was no time limit previously.
The modified AirDrop receiving options are only present in China, as all other iPhones still have the option of receiving from everyone with no time restrictions. The change is set to be made worldwide, but the company has not confirmed a change, Bloomberg reported.
The change has caused backlash from prominent figures, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, who decried the move and accused Apple of being a “vassal to the Chinese Communist Party.”
“If you look at what’s going on in China now, the CCP have imposed these zero-COVID lockdown policies. They’ve been doing it on and off for three years. And you have people in China that are really engaged in a noble effort to protest what is basically Leninist rule. So what is Apple doing with that? They are limiting the AirDrop function of the protesters. So they are serving basically as a vassal to the Chinese Communist Party,” DeSantis said on Fox News’s Tucker Carlson Tonight on Tuesday.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) also called into question the AirDrop changes in China, asking in a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook why the company modified the feature in China in a way “that makes it more difficult for Chinese protesters to communicate amongst themselves.”
Several others, including conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, lawyer Will Chamberlain, editor Ben Kew, and author Layah Heilpern, criticized the change by Apple.
Apple relies on China for much of its manufacturing and has recently said China’s stringent COVID-19 restrictions have caused production problems for the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max.
Citizens of the country have faced some of the toughest COVID-19 lockdowns, with the CCP implementing a zero-COVID strategy despite most of the world coming to the conclusion that “zero COVID” is unattainable.
The catalyst for the recent string of protests was when 10 people died in a fire after they were trapped in their apartments as part of the government’s COVID lockdowns.