China’s strict internet censorship regime is set to get even tighter as the country’s internet regulator launches a month-long public consultation on proposals to restrict mobile file-sharing services like AirDrop and Bluetooth. Activists fear this will hinder their ability to mobilize people and share information. This move will be particularly impactful in China, where the so-called Great Firewall has resulted in one of the world’s most tightly controlled internet regimes.

AirDrop and Bluetooth are crucial tools for anti-government protesters, allowing them to organize and share their political demands without revealing their details or going through a centralized network that can be monitored. However, Chinese users of iPhones and other Apple devices are currently restricted to a 10-minute window when receiving files from people who are not listed as a contact. After 10 minutes, users can only receive files from contacts. The latest move by China is believed to suppress the few remaining file-sharing tools at activists’ disposal.

Recently, the Cyberspace Administration of China has proposed new regulations that require users to register with their real name before using mobile file-sharing services such as AirDrop and Bluetooth. Users will also have to switch off the service by default, with authorities stating that these regulations are in the interest of national security and public safety. However, activists have criticized these proposals, claiming they are an attempt by China to silence dissenting voices.

To continue operating in China, app and phone developers must comply with these new rules, including providing censorship capabilities and being subject to take-down orders. This could pose a challenge for non-Chinese applications and could result in them being culled from app stores. The proposed regulations include features such as blacklisting devices, which would effectively block certain contacts from sharing files.

China’s tight control over its internet regime and recent restrictions on file-sharing tools could further limit activists’ ability to mobilize and share information. Despite these limitations, activists remain hopeful that they will find new ways to speak up and demand change. However, concerns about China’s move towards a more authoritarian state with heavy censorship and limited free speech remain prominent.

One of the proposed features in China’s new regulations is the option to blacklist certain contacts, which effectively blocks their devices from sharing files. Users can also register complaints if they believe content is undesirable. While virtual private networks or VPNs may still provide a way for users to bypass these restrictions, activists fear that the number of users who can do so will be too small to make a difference.

Despite the challenges posed by these restrictions, recent protests in China sparked by zero-Covid measures have created a new political awakening among activists. They remain optimistic that they will find innovative ways to speak up and push for change. “If we are brave and united, we will not be silenced,” Lin Shengliang, a human rights activist based in the Netherlands, said. However, many are concerned that these regulations indicate China’s transition towards a totalitarian state reminiscent of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “1984,” wherein free speech is closely monitored and heavily censored by the government.