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China to clamp down on AirDrop and Bluetooth file sharing for national security reasons

<i>Kevin Frayer/Getty Images</i><br/>Women watch a video on a mobile phone in a busy retail shopping area in Beijing
Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
Women watch a video on a mobile phone in a busy retail shopping area in Beijing

By Laura He, CNN

Hong Kong (CNN) — China’s cyberspace regulator plans to issue new rules clamping down on the use of wireless file sharing functions such as Bluetooth and Apple’s AirDrop on national security grounds.

The move comes after protesters in China used AirDrop during anti-government protests in October 2022 to share content, bypassing strict internet censorship. Weeks later, Apple moved to limit the use of the AirDrop function on devices in China.

The draft proposal was issued earlier this week by the Cyberspace Administration of China, the powerful internet watchdog that reports to a body headed by leader Xi Jinping.

The aim of the regulation is to “maintain national security and social public interests” by regulating the use of close-range wireless communication tools such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and other technologies, it said.

People must not publish or share “illegal or harmful” information on such networks and should report violations to the regulator. Those who create or support such networks should require users to provide their real names and other personal information.

The draft says service providers should conduct security assessments when launching any new apps or functions that are capable of “mobilizing the public” or enabling “public expression.”

The regulator is seeking public feedback on the proposed rules until July 6.

Other than AirDrop, Google’s Nearby Share allows users to transfer data between Android and Chrome OS devices via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Chinese phone makers Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo also offer similar services.

Last year, international media, including The New York Times and Vice World News, reported that some residents in China were using AirDrop to spread leaflets and images echoing slogans used in a rare protest against Xi on October 13. On that day, shortly before Xi secured a precedent-breaking third term, two banners were hung on an overpass of a major thoroughfare in the northwest of Beijing, protesting against Xi’s zero-Covid policy and authoritarian rule.

And in 2019, AirDrop, which is effective only over short distances, was particularly popular among anti-government demonstrators in Hong Kong who regularly used the feature to drop colorful posters and artwork to subway passengers urging them to take part in protests.

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CNN’s Stephen Jiang and Juliana Liu contributed to this report.

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