Digita Security's Patrick Wardle outlined in a blog post how the glitch in iOS 11.3 caused instant crashes on a variety of native and third-party iPhone and iPad apps, including iMessages, Facebook, and WhatsApp.
Wardle explained that although some aspects of the bug remained unclear, his investigations found that a "null" code would prompt the crash when a "removeEmoji" operation led the system to check the device's language/region settings.
The glitch appears to be the unintended result of some lines of code that Apple added to iOS to hide the Taiwanese flag emoji on devices set to the China region. Apparently, the code worked for iOS devices set to China, but caused crashes on devices that had somehow ended up in an "unsupported region-less state." It's unclear, however, exactly how a device could end up in that state.
While Apple fixed the glitch in iOS 11.4.1 after Wardle reported it, the bug's occurrence highlights Apple's willingness to placate China when it comes to sensitive political matters. Taiwan and China have had a fractious relationship ever since the Chinese Civil War, with China long considering Taiwan to be under its sovereignty, despite Taiwan officially self-recognizing as an independent democracy wholly separate from mainland China.
Apple has made similar moves in the past to protect its important Chinese market. In July 2017, for example, Apple removed many VPN apps from the App Store in China, following regulations passed earlier in the year that require such apps to be authorized by the Chinese government.
In December 2016, the company was forced to remove both the English-language and Chinese-language versions of The New York Times app from the Chinese App Store, after being informed by the Chinese authorities that they were in violation of local regulations.
Another case of Apple censoring in China included the forced shutdown of iTunes Movies and the iBooks Store, following the release of controversial independent movie Ten Years, which won best picture prize at the Hong Kong Film Awards. The dystopian film imagines Hong Kong in 2025 with language police, mini Red Guards, radical protest and social alienation rife.
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