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Chinese censors target Bluetooth and AirDrop

China aims to impose restrictions on the usage of mobile file-sharing apps like AirDrop and Bluetooth in an effort to strengthen its censorship apparatus.

A month-long public consultation on the ideas will begin on Tuesday, according to the national internet authority.

Among other things, they urge service providers to stop the dissemination of unlawful and “unwanted” content.

Activists worry that this will make it more difficult for them to organize people or spread information.

In China, where the so-called Great Firewall has produced one of the most closely restricted internet regimes, Bluetooth, AirDrop, and other file-sharing services are essential tools.

Anti-government demonstrators have frequently used AirDrop in recent years to organize and communicate their political demands. For instance, in Shanghai’s metro system last October, activists were disseminating anti-Xi Jinping flyers at a time when the Chinese president was vying for an unprecedented third term as head of state.

Because it relies on Bluetooth connections between nearby devices, AirDrop is particularly well-liked by activists because it enables them to share material with others without disclosing their personal information or doing so via a centralized network that might be watched.

But soon after Mr. Xi was elected to a third term, Apple updated the feature in China, reducing its functionality. Chinese users of iPhones and other Apple devices are currently only allowed to receive files from contacts during a 10-minute interval. Users can only get files from contacts after 10 minutes. The upgrade was initially released in China for unknown reasons, according to Apple, but the tech giant has long been criticized for caving to Beijing.

The most recent action, according to activists, suppresses the few file-sharing tools still available to them, despite the fact that China has defended these rules on the grounds of national security and the general good.

According to guidelines released on Tuesday by the Chinese Cyberspace Administration, users must “prevent and resist the production, copying, and distribution of undesirable information.” The draft regulations state that those who disobey must be reported to the authorities.

Before using these file-sharing services, users must also register using their true names, and the service must be disabled by default.

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Read more of our coverage of the demonstrations in China here:
They were protesting in China when they suddenly vanished.
The youth movement in China is driving the protests
How one man on a bridge ruined Xi’s momentous occasion
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Human rights campaigner Lin Shengliang from the Netherlands claims that “the authorities are desperate to plug loopholes on the Internet to silence opposing voices,” adding that other rules of this type may follow.

After being briefly jailed in Shenzhen for printing T-shirts with a statement from a Chinese businessman and political activist who was exiled, Mr. Lin departed China.

He makes reference to George Orwell’s cautionary tale against tyranny and claims that “This is China moving towards 1984.”

According to a software engineer who wished to remain anonymous, those phone and app developers who wish to continue doing business in China must adhere to the new regulations or risk being removed from app marketplaces.

Developers will be required to offer censoring tools and be susceptible to take-down orders, just as WeChat. The man remarked, “These new regulations might be a deal-breaker for non-Chinese applications.

Beijing bridge protester is portrayed on a protest poster.
Image caption: Last year, a lot of artwork online included China’s enigmatic “Bridge Man” protester.
The new rules limit the very file-sharing features that activists find beneficial, like the ability to send content to strangers without having to wait for them to approve it or for them to give permission to link devices.

The rules include a tool that allows users to “black list” specific contacts, thereby preventing particular devices from exchanging files. Additionally, customers have the option to file complaints.

Online images, videos, and comments are already being censored assiduously while a growing list of phrases is being blocked. Innovative activists have been coming up with innovative ways to get around this, but even the Great Firewall’s few gaps, like AirDrop, are now gradually being filled.

Virtual private networks, or VPNs, may still be used by users to get around these restrictions, but advocates worry that the number would be too tiny to have much of an impact.

But according to Mr. Lin, the recent wave of protests in China, which were brought on by zero-Covid policies, signal a new political awakening that will not be put out so quickly.

We’ll come up with fresh ways to voice out, he promised. “If we are bold and stand together, we will not be silenced.”


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