Police forces across the UK have been receiving an increasing number of false calls to 999, the country’s emergency services number. This isn’t attributed to a jump in crime, but largely to an Android feature, the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) reports.
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…
— National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) (@PoliceChiefs) June 17, 2023
According to the NPCC, Android’s Emergency SOS feature prompts the device to call 999 when the power button is pressed five times or more — which, as it seems, can easily happen accidentally in one’s pocket or bag.
This results in “silent calls” to the emergency services, where operators can’t hear anyone on the line. But as these calls can’t be ignored, the NPCC said that operators need to spend “valuable time” to call the number back and check whether help is actually needed.
Devon and Cornwall Police told the BBC that silent calls require 20 minutes to be dealt with. On Sunday alone, the station received 169 silent calls between 00:00 and 19:00.
The emergency feature in question was first introduced in the Android 12 update in 2021, but due to the overall fragmented way that device manufacturers roll out updates, the function is only now reaching enough users to become a national issue.
Google may have developed the software, but it won’t be the one fixing it. In a statement to the BBC, the tech giant said that it’s up to the manufacturers to manage how the feature works on their phones, expecting them to “shortly” introduce an update to address the issue. In the meantime, it’s urging users to switch Emergency SOS off.
Apart from temporarily disabling the feature, the NPCC is also asking citizens to stay on the line and let call operators know that they have dialed 999 by accident and don’t require any assistance.
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