Apple patches iOS bug that crashed apps due to Taiwanese flag emoji

Not exactly China's favorite flag

Wardle traced the likely objective 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.

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

Devices have reportedly been crashing since the icon was blocked in 2017, an apparent attempt at censorship because the Chinese government refuses to acknowledge Taiwan's independence.

Apple's explanation page also says that, "many assistive devices will automatically turn on the setting to allow USB devices the first time they're connected". He eventually found that the crashes were being caused by code that classified messages based on emojis they contained.

Anyone with that language setting wouldn't see the emoji but would instead see a square with a cross through it. That made it hard to track down the cause of the bug. It would also occur upon receipt of a message containing either of these. Apple had configured iOS to flag messages, both types and received, that included the Taiwan flag emoji.

It's unclear exactly how many customers were affected by the iPhone glitch, since anyone who had their Apple ID location set to China was vulnerable - not only those who had bought their handset in the country. He discovered, after digging into Apple's code, that iOS 11 blocked the emoji in Apple's own iMessage, as well as messaging apps WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

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He said the emoji triggered a crash in iOS as the censored version of the operating system read it is an "invalid input", rather than a symbol missing from Apple's library.

With the release of iOS 11.4.1 this week, Apple has patched a bug that caused iPhone apps to crash if a user tried to insert the Taiwanese flag emoji, while the locality of their devices was set to China. China claimed Taiwan as its territory, but Taiwan insisted on its right to self-govern.

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.

Luckily, that code won't cause a problem for non-Chinese iPhones anymore.

In a blog post, Wardle explained in deep technical detail how it works. But that's not the only feature that the company slipped into its latest incremental update.

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