Police forces across the UK are increasingly receiving bogus calls to 999, the country’s emergency number. This is not attributed to an increase in crime, but is largely due to an Android feature, the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) reports.
Nationwide, all emergency services are currently recording a record volume of 999 calls. There are several reasons for this, but one that we believe will have a significant impact is an update for Android smartphones…
📷Thanks to @NYorksPolice pic.twitter.com/TbmRQgTsUe
— National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) (@PoliceChiefs) June 17, 2023
According to NPCC, Android’s Emergency SOS feature prompts the device to call 999 if the power button is pressed five or more times — which, it seems, can easily happen accidentally in your pocket or purse.
This results in “silent calls” to emergency services where operators cannot hear anyone on the line. But because these calls cannot be ignored, the NPCC said operators must spend “valuable time” calling the number back and checking if help is actually needed.
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Devon and Cornwall Police told the BBC it was taking 20 minutes to process silent calls. On Sunday alone, between 00:00 and 19:00, the station received 169 silent calls.
The emergency feature in question was first introduced in the Android 12 update in 2021, but due to the overall fragmented way device manufacturers are rolling out updates, the feature is only now reaching enough users to become a national concern.
Google may have developed the software, but it won’t be the one that fixes the problem. In a statement to the BBC, the tech giant said it’s up to manufacturers to manage how the feature works on their phones and expects to roll out an update “shortly” to fix the problem. Meanwhile, it prompts users to turn off Emergency SOS mode.
Aside from temporarily disabling the feature, the NPCC is also asking citizens to stay on the phone and tell operators they accidentally dialed 999 and do not need assistance.
Android isn’t the only culprit when it comes to false emergency calls. Apple’s accident detection feature has also led to a spate of false alarms at 911 operators across the United States.