Taiwan flag emoji crashed iPhones 'to appease China'

Donna Miller
July 11, 2018

Unfortunately, because of some sloppy coding, it managed to cause crashes on some devices in the US (Wardle notes the bug relies on a region-specific setup that includes a Chinese language setting).

As such, it would appear that Apple was forced to tweak its iOS 11 code to keep mentions of Taiwan out of its software and iPhone apps.

Wardle said the code written to remove the references to the word and the flag emoji was buggy, and is what caused the crash.

As the chief research officer at cyber-security company Digita Security, Wardle published details of his bug discovery in a personal blog post. That made it hard to track down the cause of the bug. The bug traced back to a feature devised by Apple to classify messages based on the emoji they contain.

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The intended behavior of this code is not to crash your phone, obviously. He had no trouble reproducing the remotely triggerable bug, which crashed any iOS application that processed remote messages, including iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp.

Wardle traced the likely goal of the buggy code to documented iOS behavior that hides the Taiwanese flag from the emoji menu or from being displayed on the screen when the region is set to China. In China, messaging apps didn't crash, but would not display the forbidden emoji. If an iPhone is localized to China, iOS merely is supposed to remove that emoji. China claims the country as its territory, but Taiwan claims it has the right to self-govern.

The issue may be connected to China's request for Apple to censor Taiwan and its flag in China-released iPhones. The denial of service bug was live in iOS 11.3 and was seen affecting an iPhone 7 device, but, Apple has issued a fix with the iOS 11.4.1 update released just a few days ago. If someone with their location set to China would try typing "Taiwan", their iPhone would end up crashing, as well.

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