You may not know, but Apple with the help of Patrick Wardle (a former NSA employee and a prominent hacker in the Apple world who founded Digita Security) fixed yet another bug in iOS related to an emoji that simply crashes other apps. The fix came in iOS 11.4.1, but the story behind the problem itself goes beyond curious / polemic and, therefore, deserves to be shared.
As the WIRED, a friend of Wardle's said China was hacking his iPhone and needed his help. When they met, this friend showed that by selecting the Taiwan flag on the iOS emoji keyboard, the application used in question simply closed / crashed. In other words, if someone sent the flag to her phone, it basically caused her inconvenience.
Wardle investigated the case and, as I said above, helped to correct the problem in the latest version of iOS. The curious thing is that, as you can imagine, the issue did not revolve around China wanting to break into his friend's phone, but rather a bug caused by a censorship included in Ma's devices in order to please / obey a request from the Chinese government: briefly, Apple included codes on iOS so that iPhones with the location adjusted for China do not show the Taiwan flag emoji and, as you can imagine, there was a bug in that code.
In some extreme cases, instead of treating the emoji as ?missing? from the device's library, the operating system considered it an invalid entry, causing the devices to simply stop working (what hackers call a denial of service attack) ). According to Wardle, the bug has to do with the phone's location and language settings. "Somehow, the phone was confused about which region or location it should be in."
On the page where it describes the security issues fixed in iOS 11.4.1, Apple simply describes everything as "a denial of service issue solved with enhanced memory handling" there is no mention of flag censorship, of course.
That censorship has been present on iOS since 2017. Changing the region to China, the emoji simply disappears; if anyone sends you the flag, you basically receive an absent emoji. Why that? Well, the Chinese government says Taiwan is part of China and therefore has no legitimate independent government.
The iOS emoji keyboard doesn't show the ?? Taiwan flag at all if the region is set to China. The character presents as a missing character () when viewed on websites or in messages on a Chinese iPhone https://t.co/MZNsIrKmlN pic.twitter.com/2NaAiyytX4
– Emojipedia ? (@Emojipedia) March 28, 2018
When Apple first expanded the emoji flags on iOS (2015), the Taiwan flag was not included. Apple added the remaining country flags in iOS 9.0 (44 of them), except for Taiwan in betas. Taiwan was included in the final version of iOS 9.0, but possibly not in China blog.emojipedia.org/ios-9-emoji-changelog/
The iOS emoji keyboard doesn't show the Taiwan flag ?? in any way if the region is set for China. The character shown as missing () when viewed on websites or in messages on a Chinese iPhone emojipedia.org/flag-for-taiwan/
Such an attitude by Apple is not the first to satisfy the wishes of the Chinese government. As we have already reported, the company recently migrated all Chinese user data from iCloud to the country due to a decision by the local government; there, Apple also removed VPN apps from the App Store (also due to a local policy).
Why is this discussion so important?
Well, like the very WIRED he said, the bug itself was no security threat. In fact, it was not even clear whether it affected a significant number of iOS devices. The problem here is that we know that there is a code placed on iOS in order to censor something in order to satisfy the will of a specific government.
In 2016, for example, we followed a major Apple battle against the FBI in which Ma took a strong stance on user privacy, as opposed to the demands of its own government. At the time, Apple basically ?hit the table? and said it would not help the American government spy on iPhone users; on the other hand, China asked, and Apple created a censorship on its devices and made no point of commenting on what Wardle describes as a totally hypocritical attitude.
In fact, there's not much to disagree with him