Police warn Android phone users about calling 999 feature

    • By Chris Vallance
    • Technology reporter, BBC News

    Police forces across the UK have warned that a new feature on some Android phones is causing trouble for call centers with accidental “silent” 999 calls.

    Emergency SOS feature will call when pressing the side button continuously.

    Chief constables said they thought this was partly to blame for the record number of 999 calls.

    Google, which develops the most widely used Android phone software, said it hopes manufacturers will release updates to resolve the issue.

    Smartphones that run on the Android operating system include Samsung’s Galaxy, Google’s Pixel, and OnePlus phones.

    The National Police Chiefs’ Council said the new update to the Android software “added new SOS emergency functionality for devices calling 999 via the power button pressed five times or more”.

    “Nationally, all emergency services are currently experiencing record high numbers of 999 calls. There are a few reasons for this, but one that we think is having a significant impact is because update for Android smartphones.”

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    Devon and Cornwall Police said silent calls took 20 minutes to resolve. They urged people who accidentally dialed 999 to stay on the line and tell the operator it was a mistake.

    The force told the BBC it received 169 silent 999 calls between 00:00 and 19:00 BST on Sunday alone.

    Although this feature was included in Android 12 in 2021, many people have reported specific issues since updating to Android 13 last year.

    Instructions on how to disable this feature can be found on the manufacturer’s website, with most handsets allowing users to disable the emergency SOS call option in their settings.

    You can typically access this feature by accessing the safety and emergency options in settings and tapping the emergency SOS toggle to “off”, or by searching for “emergency call” in setting.

    The problem is not limited to the UK. In early June, the European Emergency Numbers Association warned that it had been alerted by some members to “an increase in false automated calls originating from Android devices.”

    A Google spokesperson told the BBC that it’s up to manufacturers who choose to offer Emergency SOS on their devices to manage how the feature works on their phones.

    “To help these manufacturers prevent unintentional emergency calls on their devices, Android is providing them with additional guidance and resources,” they said.

    “We anticipate device manufacturers will soon roll out updates to their users to resolve this issue. Users who continue to experience this issue are advised to disable Emergency SOS in the next few days .”

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