Chinese iPhone users who attempted to communicate about Taiwan or send messages containing its flag might have noticed a very frustrating problem: the emojis were causing their devices to crash. While it may seem like a quirky bug, some experts believe this nuisance was intentional on the part of Apple as it tries to appease communist China.
In fact, the problem is nothing new; it’s been happening since the icon was blocked last year in the country in a move that amounted to censorship as China repeatedly refuses to acknowledge the independence of Taiwan.
Taiwan operates as a sovereign nation and has since 1945; they also have their own government and currency in addition to the flag. China, however, views them as part of the People’s Republic of China. China is one of Apple’s most important markets, so it’s not a stretch to imagine they’d be willing to bend over backward to keep that government happy.
Speaking to Wired, security researcher Patrick Wardle said that when Apple added code to iOS to make Chinese phones not display the Taiwanese flag, that code had a bug in it. The code is believed to be a gift from Apple to the Chinese government. It’s not the only thing the firm has done to appease China; they’ve also moved Chinese Apple users’ data over to servers in China and taken VPNs out of the App Store so people can’t try to skirt Chinese censorship.
Wardle, who once worked for the NSA, said the bug meant that anyone could crash a vulnerable device simply by sending the person a message with the emoji in it. A friend brought the problem to his attention when asking for help after noticing her phone was repeatedly crashing every time she tried to send the flag to another person.
He discovered that the emoji was blocked not only in iMessage, but also Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. The problem also occurs when users simply try to type in the word “Taiwan” into text fields. He alerted Apple to the issue last month, and they released a patch for it this week. They have not, however, lifted their censorship of the Taiwanese flag.
Wardle stated: “If Apple had never tried to appease the Chinese government, the bug would never have been introduced in the first place.”
He went on to point out Apple’s hypocrisy when it clashed with the FBI about encryption in 2016. “They say ‘We’re not going to spy on our users.’ But if China asks, they’ll build censorship into their devices and not really talk about it. Hypocrisy is the term I would use.”
Earlier this year, the Marriott hotel chain was forced to issue an apology after listing Taiwan as a “country” in its customer survey, saying they “respect China’s sovereignty.”
Air India also acquiesced to pressure from China, removing “Taipei, Taiwan” as a separate region on its website and instead referring to it as “Chinese Taipei”. They joined Air Canada, Japan Airlines, and Singapore Airlines in making the move as the country threatened the airlines with having their websites blocked in China.
Read ThoughtPolice.news for more coverage of the Orwellian attempts to ban ideas.
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