Apple restricts important function for protesters in China
Dusseldorf, San Francisco The web is not a safe place for dissidents in China. Beijing censors the content. Almost every step is monitored. Anyone who expresses criticism of the Communist Party runs the risk of being imprisoned for years. To avoid surveillance, demonstrators in Hong Kong used a technical trick: they shared political messages on their iPhones with the help of Airdrop, for example to Chinese tourists.
The function of Apple-Smartphones make it possible to transfer files to other devices in the immediate vicinity via Bluetooth or WLAN. The service had also been used in recent months to share information critical of the government in heavily censored China. For example, students at universities used the function to share fonts with other iPhone users in their immediate vicinity – similar to leaflets in the past. The sending of the messages is difficult to track.
But at the recent protests in China against the Covid-19 measures Airdrop no longer plays a major role. The reason: Apple already severely restricted the function in the People’s Republic almost three weeks ago when it installed the new version of the iOS operating system.
Since then, users can only receive files from non-contacts for a maximum of ten minutes. The limited use serves to protect users, argues Apple. The group wants to “prevent unwanted file sharing”, as stated in a statement.
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In fact, since the launch of Airdrop in 2013, there have been repeated complaints about the function outside of China. For example, obscene images or threats were sent to passengers with iPhones on planes or the subway.
Strong dependency in China
But why is Apple restricting the service only in China? “In other countries and also under macOS, the restriction does not yet exist,” says Jens Kleinholz, blogger and Apple expert.
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According to business ethicist Alicia Hennig from the International University Institute Zittau at the Technical University of Dresden, the procedure is obvious: the company is heavily dependent on China. While other US tech companies have distanced themselves from Beijing, Apple has relied even more on the People’s Republic, both as a production country and as a sales market. “Facebook has withdrawn Google has retired. Apple has adapted.”
As a result, Apple cannot evade the demands of the state leadership. “Beijing knows that Apple has no alternative to China. Apple is subject to party arbitrariness,” said Hennig. “Anyone who romps around the Chinese market today must realize that they have to dance to the whistle of the party.”
In the People’s Republic of China, Apple had recently made controversial decisions several times. Most recently, the group had entered into a partnership with a Chinese state-owned company that stores sensitive user data.
Beijing knows that Apple has no alternative to China. Apple is at the mercy of the party. Alicia Hennig, Technical University of Dresden
Apple CEO Tim Cook had announced that the company would ensure that data remained encrypted so that there were no risks for users. the “However, the New York Times” reported that Apple had abandoned the international standard for data encryption, because Beijing didn’t want to allow them. The Chinese government also has physical control over the servers.
Protests at Apple supplier Foxconn
Apple manufactures almost all iPhones in the People’s Republic of China. Only a small part is produced in India. An important factory in the Chinese metropolis of Zhengzhou shows how much of an impact this has. Workers have been protesting there for weeks. Three weeks ago, the company announced via Zhengzhou: “The system is currently working at a significantly reduced capacity utilization.” Apple had therefore announced significantly longer waiting times for the new top smartphones.
The factory, operated by Apple supplier Foxconn, had instructed employees not to leave the factory premises in order not to risk infections with the corona virus, while at the same time boosting iPhone production ahead of the Christmas season.
However, employees report mass infections with the corona virus, a lack of food supplies and mistreatment by supervisors. According to reports from the NGO China Labor Bulletin, thousands of workers left the plant as early as October.
Foxconn tried to calm the situation with bonus payments and the promise of better working conditions. A few days ago, however, protests broke out again, China Labor Bulletin reported. Bloomberg news agency expects Apple due to the situation in Zhengzhou by the end of the year will miss its iPhone production target by six million units.
An Apple spokesman said, “We are reviewing the situation and working closely with Foxconn.” Employees’ concerns will be addressed.
More: Corona restrictions are causing unrest at Apple supplier Foxconn