Apple’s AirDrop in the Crosshairs of China’s National-Security Crackdown

Through Infinity Airdrop, Tenset helps crypto projects with their initial marketing.
Through Infinity Airdrop, Tenset helps crypto projects with their initial marketing.


  • Services enabling instant mass communication without internet access face scrutiny after they were used by protesters

BEIJING—Apple’s AirDrop and similar file-sharing programs that were used by protesters in China and Hong Kong in recent years face tighter controls under rules proposed by Beijing, the latest communications technology to fall foul of a broadening national-security clampdown.

The planned regulations released by the Cyberspace Administration of China target wireless technologies that allow users to instantly send files, images and other data to multiple nearby devices without the need for an internet connection. The rules, which were released only in Chinese, don’t mention AirDrop or its local rivals by name.

Before any new technologies or features linked to mobilizing public opinion or society can be introduced in China, they must undergo a security assessment, the proposed rules say. Users of file-sharing services must also register details of their identities with the service providers, the regulator said.

The draft rules are open for the public to comment until July 6. The agency gave no indication of when the rules would come into effect.

This week, Apple introduced a new AirDrop-related feature called NameDrop, allowing individuals to exchange contact information by bringing their devices together.

The company didn’t respond to a request for comment on the draft rules.

China’s business environment is growing harder to navigate as the government draws an ever-widening, but poorly defined circle around what it considers national-security issues, leaving companies struggling to understand exactly where the red lines lie.

Beijing had already been tightening rules on communications technology in recent years, and encrypted-messaging applications aren’t welcomed.

AirDrop was reportedly used during demonstrations against China’s strict zero-Covid measures last year, and 2019, Apple and Google both removed apps associated with Hong Kong’s antigovernment protests from their digital stores.

Under the proposed rules, operators will likely have to hand over phone numbers, ID data or other information of people who have sent information using the services if authorities ask for it on grounds of security, said You Yunting, a senior partner at Shanghai DeBund Law Offices.

The draft regulation stipulates that close-range mesh network service providers must save relevant records and report any discovery of illegal or harmful information to internet regulators. What constitutes illegal or harmful information wasn’t specified, though a rash of recent laws and regulations have focused on a range of concerns from personal-data protection and cybersecurity to espionage and energy.

Apple received 1,261 requests from Beijing for information about users’ devices in the second half of 2021, and complied with 93% of them, according to the company. It also had 70 requests for users’ account information, meeting 83% of them.

The new rules would also require technology companies to set “receiving off" as the default for file-sharing features. Snapshot previews or thumbnails must also be disabled unless users choose otherwise. These measures aim to address concerns about the misuse of file-sharing services, including the unauthorized or accidental sharing of explicit or sensitive content.

Last year, Apple added the “Everyone for 10 Minutes" AirDrop setting, replacing the previous “Everyone" option and limiting the amount of time that users can use this function to contact devices that aren’t in their saved contacts.

China’s smartphone market is a significant battleground for tech firms, with Apple’s iPhone taking about a 20% share in the first quarter, according to Counterpoint Research. Meanwhile, the biggest centers for making Apple devices are also in China, and the company relies heavily on its local supply chain.

Write to Yoko Kubota at

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