China Plans to Regulate File-Sharing Services like Bluetooth and Airdrop

China is considering imposing restrictions and conducting research on the use of wireless file-sharing services between mobile devices.
"Illustration of Bluetooth (Android Authority)"
"Illustration of Bluetooth (Android Authority)"

China is considering imposing restrictions and conducting research on the use of wireless file-sharing services between mobile devices, such as Airdrop and Bluetooth. This comes after the discovery that these devices have been utilized by dissenters to evade censorship and spread protest messages. The Cyberspace Administration of China, the country's top internet regulator, has released a draft regulation on proximity-based network sharing services and launched a month-long public consultation on Tuesday (June 7, 2023).

According to The Guardian, under the proposed rules, service providers must prevent the dissemination of harmful and illegal information, maintain relevant records, and report their findings to the regulator. Service providers must also provide data and technical assistance to relevant authorities, including internet regulators and the police, during inspections. Users will also be required to register with their real names. Furthermore, features and technologies that have the potential to mobilize public opinion must undergo security assessments before they can be introduced. "The new regulations will bring Airdrop and similar services firmly under China's online content control," said Tom Nunlist, a senior analyst at consulting firm Trivium China. Android Google and other Chinese smartphone manufacturers, such as Xiaomi and Oppo, also offer compatible functions among their own devices. However, Apple, in particular, garnered attention after some Chinese dissenters used Airdrop in 2022 to bypass surveillance and distribute critical messages against the regime by sending them to strangers on public transportation.

The tool serves as a relatively untraceable method of file sharing in China, where most social media and messaging platforms are heavily monitored. Shortly thereafter, Apple restricted the use of Airdrop on iPhones in China, allowing Chinese users to receive files from non-contacts for only ten minutes at a time. The proposed regulations will control similar functions, requiring file acceptance and thumbnail preview to be disabled by default.

"This is primarily about cybersecurity, and its main goal is to ensure that all information transmissions can be traced in the event of problematic issues," says Gao Fuping, a law professor at East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai.

"Apple has faced criticism in the past for its compliance practices in China," added Nunlist, the senior analyst. "The implementation of Airdrop controls could easily result in a backlash at home in the US."

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