It’s impossible to keep up with all of the nefarious attacks on our computers and phones, but it is important to understand that not all attacks are designed to steal your data or render your device useless. The latest “black dot of death” involves all versions of the iPhone, but it’s more of a prank than a piece of malware.
However, a paralyzed phone isn’t funny. The “black dot of death” is obviously named after the black dot emoji, the catalyst for the bug, but may also be a nod to the infamous black spot of death in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.” A pirate who received a crumpled paper with a black dot knew he likely wasn’t long for this world. The latest bug has no such dire consequences, and will not permanently damage your phone.
The black dot of death prank was first used against Android phones just a few days before the iPhone edition was discovered. The Android bug appeared in popular messaging app WhatsApp, and this time the bug is delivered in the very popular iMessage. The most recent data from Apple estimates that 200,000 messages are sent every second.
Apparently created by an Apple hobbyist on YouTube, the bug is making the rounds of iMessage users, spreading from one prankster to another. Here’s how it works: A user receives a message from a contact that includes the black dot emoji. If he or she opens the message, it triggers a thousands-of-character-long string that overwhelms the app and it freezes.
While just restarting WhatsApp on an Android phone eliminated the bug, it’s not so simple on an iPhone. Closing iMessage and restarting it won’t work. Turning off your phone and restarting it won’t work either. You need another route into iMessage so that you can delete the message.
If you have an iPhone 6S or later model, you can use 3D Touch to get rid of the bug. 3D Touch is a feature that allows you to access a lot of shortcuts on your phone. Activate it by pressing hard on any icon on your homescreen. When you do this, a window will popup with a list of available actions. In this case, close iMessages and go to your homescreen. Hold down the iMessages icon and you’ll see a menu that includes “New Message.” Tap and then navigate to the black-dot-of-death message and delete it. (Swipe from the right to reveal the delete button.)
Siri may provide another workaround to get into iMessage on pre-6S models. First, ask Siri to “read unread messages.” Then ask Siri to reply. Once you’ve done that, you can press down on the message bubble that remains unsent to open your message list. From there, delete the message.
For those with older iPhones, you’ll have to log into another device and delete the message from there. If your phone is synced to a Mac computer, it’s a simple process. If not, you’ll have to borrow a friend’s iPhone, iPad or Mac and login to iMessages with your credentials to access your iMessage account.
While there were rumors out of Microsoft’s Build developer conference about working with Apple to allow iMessage to work with PCs, that’s a long shot and unlikely to happen in the near future, if ever. For now, iPhone-PC combo users will have to find a friend with an Apple device to fix the bug if they inadvertently open a black dot message. Your best bet is to keep an eye out for the black dot emoji and delete the message without ever opening it.
Leslie Meredith has designed international websites and now runs marketing for a global events company. She writes about personal technology. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.