Not groovy: iPhone users receive undeletable emails from 1970


Received any emails from the '70s lately?
Photo: Ste Smith

A strange iOS glitch has some iPhone and iPad users complaining after they received undeletable emails dated January 1, 1970.

The emails in question are blank, with no subject or content — which means that sadly we’re not in line for scalper messages about tickets to the farewell concert of Diana Ross and The Supremes (which took place that month), or reminders about meetings we’re very, very late to.

Fortunately, the glitch is totally harmless, unlike Apple’s last 1970-related bug. Three weeks ago, users uncovered an odd iOS 9 bug that bricks iPhones which have their date set to January 1, 1970. Apple confirmed the existence of the bug, and said it was working on a fix, although it has not yet rolled out to most users.

Unlike that error, this 1970s email bug won’t harm your iPhone, although it certainly appears a bit confusing.

It relates to UNIX, the time-telling system for most computers, since UNIX time began at 00:00:00 UTC on January 1, 1970. As a result, Jan 1 represents 0 in UNIX time, with every second that passes since then representing another point in UNIX time. Right now we’re hovering around the 1.5 billion mark. As a result, emails sent without time data (or which have timezone data that can’t be understood) default to early January 1970.

This 1970s glitch has actually been around on iOS (and other email systems) for years now, but since it was the subject of a report in today’s Telegraph newspaper, we thought it was worth mentioning here — if only to reassure people that there’s nothing to worry about.

In reality, the first email wasn’t sent until the following year, 1971, while Apple didn’t ship its first computers until 1976.


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