On June 18, 2018, Apple announced that when iPhone users in the United States call 911, their locations will automatically be securely shared with first responders. This update comes with iOS 12, which will be released later this year.
With approximately 80 percent of 911 calls coming from cellular devices, it can be difficult for first responders to “pinpoint the caller’s location, particularly when a 911 caller is indoors,” according to an NPR article from 2014. Before the popularity of cellphones, callers would use a landline to call, which is linked to a specific address.
Steve Souder, director of the Fairfax County Department of Public Safety Communications in Virginia, said, that the location of the caller is “absolutely the most important…We need to know where you are to send somebody. We don’t need to know what; we don’t need to know how; we don’t need to know when. The where is the No. 1 thing.” According to CNN, a 2014 report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimated that more than 10,000 deaths were due to inadequate location information.
How it Works:
In 2015, Apple launched a system that estimates a mobile 911 caller’s location using cell towers, GPS, and WiFi Access Points called HELO (Hybridized Emergency Location). Now, Apple has teamed up with RapidSOS, a start-up company that can connect devices to 911 and first responders, to connect the data obtained by HELO with 911 centers. This update can help improve response time, especially if callers are in situations where they cannot speak during the call or do not know their location. “When every moment counts, these tools will help first responders reach our customers when they most need assistance,” says Tim Cook, CEO of Apple.
Should Consumers Be Concerned About Location-sharing?
iPhones and other smart phones have location services, which can be used for innocuous services like GPS and navigation. However, websites have alerted iPhone users about how their phones use Location Services to record a user’s “significant locations,” or a list of places users have been, including how often and when the user visited them. Some users may feel suspicious about privacy and data collection.
However, to address this issue, Apple has stated that “user data cannot be used for any non-emergency purpose and only the responding 911 center will have access to the user’s location during an emergency call.” Furthermore, while the update is turned on by default for iOS 12 iPhone users in the U.S., there will be an option to opt-out in the phone’s settings.
Additionally, in April 2018 RapidSOS announced a partnership with Uber, which would allow riders to contact 911 within the app. According to CNN, while Google recently did a pilot program with RapidSOS, the software is not yet available in Android devices.