Android’s emergency call shortcut is flooding dispatchers with false calls

Rotating lights flash on an ambulance.

Enlarge (credit: Eric Lagace / Flickr)

Police forces in the UK are seeing a “record number” of false calls to 999, the UK’s emergency services number, and the culprit is apparently Android. As the BBC reports, Android 12 added an easy-access feature for emergency services: just press the power button five times, and your phone will dial emergency services for you. That’s apparently pretty easy to do accidentally when a phone is sitting in your pocket, or if you have a wonky power button, resulting in a surge of totally silent accidental calls to emergency dispatch.

The National Police Chiefs Council tweeted earlier this month that “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.” The BBC report says one department “received 169 silent 999 calls between 00:00 and 19:00 BST on Sunday alone.” In response to these most recent complaints, Google says it’s working on a fix with Android OEMs.

The funny thing is, Android 12—and this easy emergency call feature—came out a year and a half ago. Thanks to the unique (uniquely bad) way that Android is rolled out, the feature is only now hitting enough people to become a national problem. Google’s Pixel devices get new Android updates immediately, but everyone else can take months or years to get new versions of Android because it’s up to your device manufacturer to make new, bespoke Android builds for every device they have ever released. When this landed on Pixel devices in 2021, it was immediately flagged as a problem by some people, with one Reddit post calling it “dangerous.” Since then, there has been a steady stream of posts warning people about it.

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