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CCP Targets AirDrop and Bluetooth for Content Control

In a move that will surprise nobody, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is making moves to restrict the use of wireless file-sharing services like AirDrop and Bluetooth to restrict the spread of “illegal and undesirable” informationthe BBC reports. Used to circumvent China’s so-called “Great Firewall,” these services are seen by CCP censors as a way to bypass this system to spread information critical of the Chinese premier and The People’s Republic of China’s ruling party.

Over the last few years, protestors who oppose the government have frequently utilized AirDrop to coordinate and distribute their political demands. For example, certain activists employed this tool on the Shanghai subway last October to share posters criticizing Xi Jinping, just as the Chinese president anticipated his third term as the country’s leader. AirDrop has also gained popularity among activists due to its reliance on Bluetooth connections between nearby devices. This allows individuals to share information with strangers without disclosing their details or relying on a centralized network that can be monitored.

To this end, China’s primary internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China, has published proposed guidelines on “close-range mesh network services” and initiated a month-long period for public feedback starting on Tuesday. According to the proposed regulations, it would be mandatory for service providers to stop the spread of harmful and unlawful content, maintain necessary records, and promptly notify regulatory authorities of any discoveries.

“The new draft regulations would bring airdrop and similar services firmly into China’s online content control apparatus,” Tom Nunlist, a senior analyst at the consulting firm Trivium China, told the GuardianTo ensure compliance, service providers must assist regulatory authorities, including internet regulators and law enforcement agencies, with necessary data and technical support during inspections. Users are also mandated to register with their authentic identities. Furthermore, any technology or feature influencing public sentiment must undergo a security evaluation before implementation.

However, some international companies have already taken steps to restrict the spread of “dangerous” information in China. For example, following Mr. Xi’s re-election, Apple introduced a new version of its file-sharing feature in China, which imposes restrictions. Chinese users of Apple products can now only receive files from non-contact sources within a 10-minute window. After the 10-minute limit, file-sharing can only occur among contacts. Apple has not explained the update’s introduction in China. However, Apple has received criticism for its efforts to appease Beijing over the years.

According to activists, the BBC reports that China’s most recent action is seen as an attempt to suppress the limited file-sharing tools available to them. While China has justified these regulations as necessary for national security and public interest, they are believed to be hindering activists’ efforts.

“The authorities are desperate to plug loopholes on the Internet to silence opposing voices,” Netherlands-based human rights activist Lin Shengliang told the BBC, adding that more such regulations could follow. Although virtual private networks or VPNs may allow some users to circumvent these restrictions, activists are concerned that the number of people able to do so will be too limited to have a significant impact.

Despite this, Shengliang is optimistic that the recent surge of protests in China, sparked by its zero-Covid measures, represents a new era of political awareness that will not be quickly extinguished. “We will find new ways to speak up,” Shengliang said. “If we are bold and stand together, we will not be silenced,” he added.