Apple’s 10-minute AirDrop time limit in China will arrive globally in 2023

iOS 16.1.1’s time restriction for receiving AirDrop transfers from non-contacts will arrive to all users globally in 2023, Apple has confirmed.

iPhone 13 Pro Max displaying an iOS 16 Lock Screen, held in hand above a MacBook Air
The 10-minute AirDrop time limit goes global in 2023 | Image: Penfer / Unsplash
  • What’s happening? In China, iOS 16.1.1 imposes a ten-minute limit for receiving AirDrops from non-contacts. In 2023, this change will affect all users globally.
  • Why care? Apple has limited AirDrop file sharing in China because protesters would use it to spread anti-government images and posts. For folks in other parts of the world, stronger AirDrop privacy will mitigate the receipt of unwanted files.
  • What to do? Go to Settings → General → AirDrop & Handoff on your iOS, iPadOS or macOS device to verify that AirDrop is restricted to your contacts rather than turned on for everyone.

Why does iOS 16.1.1 brings an AirDrop time limit in China?

On November 9, 2022, Apple released iOS 16.1.1, iPadOS 16.1.1 and macOS Ventura 13.0.1. Release notes for these bug-fix updates in other regions mention no new outward-facing user features. However, Bloomberg quickly spotted a new AirDrop restriction affecting Chinese customers who bought their iPhones in the country.

The publication notes that Chinese users have been using AirDrop to sidestep strict online censorship by letting people share anti-government images, videos and web links between themselves during protests. Specifically, Chinese protesters used AirDrop to distribute posters targeting Xi Jinping and the government.

Before iOS 16.1.1, Chinese users could opt to make their device visible via AirDrop to other people indefinitely, even if they weren’t stored as contacts, but that’s no longer the case. Read: How to fix AirDrop not working on iPhone, iPad and Mac

AirDrop privacy: Everyone or Contacts Only?

After the 10 minutes have passed, AirDrop privacy automatically switches from Everyone to Contacts Only, which restricts file sharing via AirDrop to people stored as your contacts in the iPhone’s address book. As a result, protesters in China won’t be able to receive images and other stuff via AirDrop from a stranger unless they specifically remember to change AirDrop privacy back to Everyone.

Bloomberg notes that Apple will bring this change to all users globally sometime in 2023. Apple has not officially commented on why it restricts AirDrop file transfers from people not saved in Contacts to 10 minutes for its customers in China.

Nefarious AirDrop uses

AirDrop isn’t always used for legitimate file-sharing. Taking advantage of the fact that most people don’t bother changing their AirDrop privacy, pranksters would send unsolicited nudes to movie-goers, share pornographic images at events like concerts, and so on. Read: How to stop AirDrop from converting PNGs to JPGs

Sometimes those stupid jokes may lead to serious consequences, like when airplane passengers would receive threats on their phones, causing planes to be grounded and other major disruptions. By introducing a time limit, Apple will at least prevent iPhone users from receiving unsolicited AirDrops from anyone indefinitely.