Android’s new feature could genuinely save your life


Google quietly rolls out a new feature to pass on location data during 999 calls

When you think about upgrades to mobile operating systems, it’s usually the stuff you can see that you’re the most excited about. New skins and visible features certainly grab headlines, but Google has done something even better, and it will literally save lives.

If you dial 999 on a mobile phone, emergency services are dependent on either the caller to accurately explain where they are (which obviously can be a gamble for various reason), mobile-phone masts (which only narrow your location down to a few kilometres) or assisted GPS (which isn’t reliable indoors).

So now – starting in the UK and Estonia – phones running Android 2.3 and later will send everything the handset knows about your location to emergency services whenever you dial 999. That’s everything available to the apps on your phone, including Wi-Fi, GPS and phone-mast data. This data, the announcement assures us, will never be seen or handled by Google.

The feature is dependent on your phone network, but in the UK at least, the level of support is pretty thorough with Three, Vodafone, O2, EE and BT all cited. You may be shocked to learn that I’m not an expert on Estonian phone operators, but over there it’s supported by Smit, Telia, Tele2, Elisa and Hairekeskus.

The blog post cites a study from the US Federal Communications Commission that suggests that “an improved location accuracy which results in reducing wireless E911 response time by one minute can result in saving over 10,000 lives annually”.

Google want to roll this out around the world, but need support from the emergency services to do so. Hopefully the promise of saving thousands of extra lives will ensure a swift enrolment all round.

Images: Michael Curi and Jiri Engestrom used under Creative Commons

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