Editor’s Note: Sign up for CNN’s Meanwhile in China newsletter, which explores what you need to know about the country’s rise and how it impacts the world.
A Chinese tech company has succeeded in cracking the encryption around Apple’s Airdrop wireless file sharing function to identify users of the popular feature, according to Beijing’s Justice Bureau.
The company, Beijing-based Wangshendongjian Technology, was able to help police track down people who used the service to send “inappropriate information” to passersby in the Beijing subway, the agency said in a Monday statement.
It had identified the senders’ mobile phone numbers and email addresses as part of an investigation following a complaint, the statement said. Several suspects had been identified, it said, without giving details about the nature of the messages.
The firm “broke through the technical difficulties of anonymous traceability through AirDrop,” which “prevented the further spread of inappropriate remarks and potential bad influence,” the statement said.
CNN has reached out to Apple (AAPL) for comment.
Airdrop has been blamed for nuisance messages received by some commuters on subways and buses in Chinese cities. The popular wireless file sharing function was also reportedly used by protesters to spread anonymous messages critical of the Chinese government in the last few months of 2022.
According to international media, including The New York Times and Vice World News, some residents in China used AirDrop, which can be used only between Apple devices, to spread leaflets and images echoing slogans used in a rare protest against Chinese leader Xi Jinping in October of that year.
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 send colorful posters and artwork to subway passengers urging them to take part in protests.
In November 2022, Apple began to limit Airdrop sharing with non-contacts for devices in China, which made it harder for users to share files with people they didn’t know. That feature was later expanded globally.