Android SOS feature puts UK police under stress
First responders in the UK are facing challenges due to a feature on Android phones designed to assist users in contacting emergency services.
The Emergency SOS feature, which allows users to quickly call for help by pressing the power button multiple times, has led to an increase in false emergency calls, according to a report by the BBC. Police forces in various regions, including Scotland and English counties like Wiltshire, Devon, Cornwall, and Gloucestershire, have reported a surge in silent or abandoned calls since an Android update released between October 2022 and February 2023 introduced the feature to more Android phones.
Operators have to invest approximately 20 minutes to verify that these calls were not made by individuals who are unable to communicate verbally in emergency situations. While the SOS feature can be accidentally activated, resulting in unintentional emergency calls, each false call adds to the burden faced by emergency responders.
The National Police Chiefs Council raised awareness about the issue on Twitter, urging users to disable the Android feature to reduce the strain on emergency services. They emphasized that silent calls are never ignored and that call handlers spend valuable time attempting to call back to ensure the caller doesn't require assistance. The council advised users who accidentally dial emergency services to remain on the line and inform the operator that it was an accident and no assistance is needed.
Emergency SOS was introduced with the release of Android 12 on Google Pixel phones in 2021. However, the feature took time to roll out to other Android phone brands as it is the responsibility of device manufacturers to customize and implement it on their devices. Consequently, Emergency SOS has only recently been deployed on a sufficient number of Android phones to bring attention to the issue.
Google has acknowledged the situation and stated that phone manufacturers are responsible for offering the Emergency SOS feature and managing its functionality on their devices. In the meantime, Google recommends disabling Emergency SOS until device manufacturers can update the feature appropriately.