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Bug alert: emoji abuse can make the new Hangouts app temporarily unusable

November 11, 2013
hangouts app

Google’s Hangouts app for Android received a nice update in the days ahead of the KitKat launch, that brought the feature that we’ve all been clamoring for so long – SMS integration. But it looks like a curious little bug found its way in along the good stuff, one that could render the app at least temporarily unusable.

Discovered by redditor Recon0212 and his colleagues, the bug causes the Hangouts app to force close and then fail to restart when large numbers of emoji emoticons are sent in a group chat. Recon0212’s teammate supposedly sent over ten pages of emoji in a group chat that involved twelve people, which caused the app to crash on everyone’s Android devices. Worse, the Hangouts app then failed to log in properly, effectively becoming unusable.

There’s a solution though: Recon0212 was able to log in the web interface of Hangouts and leave the group chat that caused the crash. After that, he was able to restart normally. Clearing application data or restarting the device didn’t fix the problem. We weren’t able to reproduce the bug in a two-user chat, though the app became sluggish, so this may primarily affect group conversations.

This may not seem a major bug, but some less scrupulous users could use it on purpose to disable some other users’ app, at least temporarily. The problem is even more serious when you consider that Hangouts replaces the SMS app in KitKat.

There’s a fix coming: Googler and frequent Reddit user Dan Morrill spotted the thread and was able to reproduce it with the PM of the Hangouts app. A fix will probably come soon, but until then you should be aware that a solution exists in case you fall victim to a prank.