Police forces throughout the UK have raised concerns about a recent feature found on certain Android phones that is causing a surge in unintentional “silent” emergency calls to switchboards.
The Emergency SOS feature is triggered when the side button on the phone is pressed repeatedly, leading to unintended calls to the emergency number, 999.
Police officials believe this feature is contributing to the unprecedented number of emergency calls being received.
Google, the developer of the widely used Android phone software, has stated that it expects manufacturers to release updates to resolve the issue.
The National Police Chiefs Council explained that the latest update included “a new SOS emergency function that allows devices to initiate a 999 call by pressing the power button five times or more.”
“Nationwide, all emergency services are currently facing an unprecedented volume of 999 calls. While there are multiple factors contributing to this surge, we believe that the Android smartphone update is having a significant impact.”
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
Devon and Cornwall Police have expressed their concern over the increase in silent emergency calls, noting that it takes approximately 20 minutes to handle each call. They have urged individuals who accidentally dial 999 to remain on the line and inform the operator of the mistake.
According to the force, they received a total of 169 silent 999 calls between 00:00 and 19:00 BST on a single Sunday. Police Scotland also reported a significant rise in accidental calls to 999, as reported by BT.
Although the Emergency SOS feature was introduced in Android 12 in 2021, many users have encountered specific issues since the update to Android 13 last year. Manufacturers’ websites provide guidance on how to disable the feature.
This issue is not limited to the UK. The European Emergency Number Association issued a warning in early June after being informed by some of its members about a surge in automatic false calls originating from Android devices.
A spokesperson from Google stated that it is the responsibility of manufacturers who choose to include Emergency SOS on their devices to manage how the feature operates. Google is providing additional guidance and resources to assist these manufacturers in preventing unintentional emergency calls. They anticipate that device manufacturers will release updates in the near future to address this issue. In the meantime, users experiencing this problem should disable the Emergency SOS feature for a temporary period.