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Bizarre ‘Taiwan’ iOS bug used may have had origins in Chinese censorship

Apple has just patched a bizarre bug where typing the word ‘Taiwan’ would cause iOS devices to crash. Although a fix has now been found, there are suggestions that its origin may have lain in Apple’s efforts to apply some China-friendly censorship. 

The explanation has come from a researcher at Digita Security, Patrick Wardle, who explains that the bug has its origins in a ‘null-pointer deference’, which is triggered whenever the phone is doing some kind of emoji processing (via AppleInsider).

Through a lengthy investigative process Wardle establishes that the bug only seems to occur if the user’s ‘Country’ preference is set to China, or if the phone otherwise thinks it has.

A Chinese concession

Muddying the waters further is the fact that iOS hides the Taiwanese flag emoji in China, suggesting that the bug has its roots in this state censorship. China’s relationship with Taiwan is complicated, but suffice to say the two of them aren’t hugely fond of one another.

Before the bug was patched in iOS 11.4.1 (partly as a result of Wardle’s report), it was a pretty nasty piece of work. Typing the word ‘Taiwan’ on either first- or third-party apps would cause the phone to crash, but even receiving the banned emoji would cause affected devices to crash.

Although that might be the end for this particular bug, this is unlikely to be the last time we’re going to see problems as a result of country specific features or censorship.

China is a big market for Apple, and you can understand the desire to reach a compromise by omitting such a minor feature, but every time a massive company makes a concession like this, it further legitimises that government’s behaviour.

This isn’t as big a deal as Google censoring mentions of the Tiananmen Square protests, but we hope its a slippery slope that doesn’t lead to a concession of that scale.

Do you think it’s right to omit a certain flag emoji from a certain country? Let us know @TrustedReviews. 

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