IPhone crash? Might have been China's dislike for Taiwan's flag

Joanna Estrada
July 11, 2018

Any company that wants to do business in China has to abide by the draconian censorship laws imposed by the country's government.

A recently discovered iOS bug caused iPhones to crash after the word "Taiwan" was typed in. According to security researcher Patrick Wardle, Apple's efforts to appease the Chinese government led to an annoying iPhone bug that it only just fixed in the most recent software update, after the bug plagued users for two years. Wardle notes that while digging into the code for possible problems, he found out that various code to the faulting instruction was checking the user's device's language/ locale settings for China. He had no trouble reproducing the remotely triggerable bug, which crashed any iOS application that processed remote messages, including iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. That made it hard to track down the cause of the bug. By observing the phone's memory and system restore files, Wardle managed to extract some of the code libraries. The bug also kicked in when the Taiwanese flag emoji was used.

"Basically, Apple added some code to iOS with the goal that phones in China wouldn't display a Taiwanese flag and there was a bug in that code". On the side of the recipient, whenever an app would show the flag emoji, it would end up crashing.

Apple, who did not return a request for comment on Wardle's comments, has in the past defended its concessions to the Chinese government as part of a back-and-forth that will allow it to bring art and culture to the mainland. China claimed Taiwan as its territory, but Taiwan insisted on its right to self-govern.

When triggered, the bug would crash any app where the Taiwanese flag emoji or the word "Taiwan" had been typed in for iPhones where the region had not been properly set. Before Apple's fix, changing the iPhone's region could have worked around the bug.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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