Android Feature ‘Behind Deluge’ Of 999 Calls

Image credit: North Yorkshire Police

Police forces urge users to turn off Emergency SOS on Android phones, saying it is behind sharp increase in ‘silent calls’ to 999

Police forces in the UK have urged smartphone users to consider turning off a feature that automatically dials 999.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said the feature, called Emergency SOS, may be behind a sharp increase in “silent calls” to 999.

The Council said in particular that a recent Android update may have caused a spike.

“Nationally, all emergency services are currently experiencing record high 999 call volumes. There’s a few reasons for this, but one we think is having a significant impact is an update to Android smartphones,” the Council said in a statement.

The Tap Economy Part 1: Screen Commerce android

‘Silent calls’

The body advised users to turn the feature off if possible by editing Safety and Emergency settings – although on some devices the feature cannot be turned off.

If a user makes an accidental 999 call the Council urged them to stay on the line rather than hanging up, and to tell the operator no aid is needed.

“Calls to 999 where the operator cannot hear anyone on the line (silent calls) are never just ignored. Call handlers will then need to spend valuable time trying to call you back to check whether you need help,” the Council said.

Apple iPhone and Android devices have both included the feature for some time, but software updates have tweaked the way it works, which varies depending on the device.

Feature update

On Android phones the feature calls the local country’s emergency services number when the power button is pressed five times, while on recent iPhones the user must hold down the side button and one of the volume buttons.

Police forces in the US, Canada and Europe have all warned recently of a surge of automatic false calls that appear to originate from Android devices.

Google said in a statement it was up to phone manufacturers to manage how Emergency SOS works on their devices and said it is planning to change the way the feature works.

“To help these manufacturers prevent unintentional emergency calls on their devices, Android is providing them with additional guidance and resources,” Google said.

Ski slope deluge

“We anticipate device manufacturers will roll out updates to their users that address this issue shortly. Users that continue to experience this issue should switch Emergency SOS off for the next couple of days.”

Google didn’t specify how it plans to change the feature.

A similar iPhone and Apple Watch feature designed to phone emergency services in the event of a car crash recently launched a wave of false-alarm emergency calls from ski slopes and roller coasters.