Exclusive: Mysterious Hidden ‘Editorial Ops’ Sandbox Appears in Apple News

Apple News Editorial Ops leak Credit: Jesse Hollington
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An odd bug in Apple’s News app appears to be giving at least some users a peek behind the curtain, showing draft and archived posts from the Apple News editorial team.

It’s unclear right now if this is a bug related to something in recent iOS betas, or an issue on the back-end Apple News servers, but a private channel appears to have been exposed in the Apple News widget on the most recent iOS 14.7 beta showing articles with timestamps in the titles that don’t appear to be intended for public consumption.

Content from this channel appeared in “The Best of News+” section of the large widget, which contained a seemingly current article with a long timestamp in the title.

Tapping on this entry goes to a relatively normal-looking Best of News+ section, except that the header at the top shows “Editorial Ops (en-CA Sandbox)”.

As with any other Apple News content, tapping on the header takes you to the channel for that particular content, such as CBC News or the Wall Street Journal. In this case, however, the channel in question appears to be intended only for the Apple News editorial team, with three subheadings for Main, Drafts, and Archive.

While the “Main” heading appears empty, “Drafts” and “Archive” both contain a lengthy list of articles with titles and full timestamps — in some cases showing multiple draft versions of the same article — often with different text.

These are clearly work-in-progress entries, which differ from what’s shown in the normal Best of News+ section, which of course only displays the final entries. However, since this section is normally designed to feature articles from other publications, most of the drafts are simply single-paragraph abstracts with links to the full article on the corresponding publication’s channel, such as Bloomberg or the Toronto Star.

What’s interesting is that at least a few of these drafts also reflect articles that either have yet to be published or have since been taken down from the featured section.

To be clear, despite the internal nature of this channel, it’s still presented in entirely read-only form, just like any other channel on Apple News. There are no tools for managing or editing posts — which is as we’d expect since the Apple News app is a reader; the Apple News editorial team presumably uses other internal tools to actually create and manage the content on the service.

The normal Apple News tools are all available here, including the ability to follow the channel. Doing this adds it to the list of followed channels in the same manner as any other Apple News channel, at which point it also syncs across to other devices and becomes available on the Mac and the iPad.

It doesn’t seem to be possible to actually search for this “sandbox” channel or find it in any other way, however once it’s been added to your following list, it appears to remain there, and can be revisited and read like the rest of the content on Apple News.

However, the presence of the date and time stamps, plus the fact that there are so many duplicate and in-progress articles that don’t appear anywhere else on Apple News makes it clear that this is not a channel that’s intended to be seen in the Apple News app.

Although the appearance of this channel doesn’t appear to be any kind of security issue for Apple, it’s almost certainly abnormal. Our guess is that it’s simply an “unlisted” channel that shouldn’t normally appear for anybody who doesn’t have a specific link to it, yet somehow the content from it crept into the Apple News widget on iOS.

It’s quite likely that this leak will be rectified at some point, but it remains to be seen whether Apple will close off the channel in some other way such that it also disappeared from the Following lists for those who have added it, but shouldn’t have been able to see it in the first place.

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