- Google has updated its Personal Safety app to require a “touch and hold” step to send a call for emergency services, addressing a spike in false 911 calls from Android phones.
- The emergency SOS feature has been present in phone builds since Android 12, but device manufacturers had the option to activate it by default, leading to accidental calls.
- While the update may reduce accidental calls, the new process of contacting emergency services through touch-and-hold could be seen as a drawback, especially in time-sensitive situations, potentially complicating matters for those in need.
If you’ve ever experienced an unexpected emergency in the digital age, you likely know the benefits of having a phone on you in these moments. An immediate connection to the outside world can be the difference between instant emergency care and an increasingly severe situation. However, Google may have made it too easy to send out a call for emergency services. After a reported spike in these calls, the situation has since been remedied.
As noted by Mishaal Rahman in an update posted to X (formerly known as Twitter), Google updated its Personal Safety app — the tool that allows you to easily contact emergency services — back in June 2023. Now, it’s being observed that a “touch and hold” step is required in order to send a call for help. This means that, after pressing your power button at least 5 times, you need to touch and hold a button on your display for 3 seconds. Doing so initiates the call to emergency personnel. If you’ve already set up the emergency SOS feature on your device, you can now switch to this mode of contact.
All phone builds since Android 12 have required an emergency SOS feature, but Google has always left it up to device manufacturers as to whether it’s active by default. Some manufacturers also have their own emergency service feature.
While these features may be beneficial, they’ve caused headaches for some first responders — specifically because of how easy they are to trigger. In April 2023, Ontario Provincial Police made it known that they had been dealing with a large increase in accidental calls. At the time, the police assumed it was due to Android phones mistakenly placing the calls — some Android devices had the emergency SOS feature turned on by default. While it was possible to simply toggle the option off, many people were unaware that it was enabled to start.
Now that Google has addressed the situation, first responders could see a much-appreciated drop in accidental calls. However, the new option to contact emergency services feels a bit like jumping through hoops — touch-and-hold is simple enough, but when time is of the essence, it could be a drawback. It’s understandable that first responders want fewer false alarms, given the fact that they distract from actual emergencies. Making it harder to access these services, though, might complicate matters even further for those who need them.