Apple is making a small change to the way that iPhones call 911 that could 'dramatically improve public safety'

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
  • Apple is making a change to the way iPhones call 911.
  • For users, nothing will change on the surface. But behind the scenes, your iPhone will provide location data from cell towers, GPS, and Wi-Fi to the 911 call center over a new internet-based path.
  • Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said it could “dramatically improve public safety” in a statement.

Starting later this year, the way that iPhones reach contact 911 will subtly change in a way that could let emergency assistance find the caller faster and more easily.

Apple is teaming up with RapidSOS to include a new way to transfer location data to 911 call centres over the internet, building on the current system which was developed for landlines and uses older, phone-based data. The data provided to 911 centres includes information on location from cell towers as well as data from GPS and Wi-Fi networks.

Now, when an iPhone calls 911, location data within 50 meters will be routed to a RapidSOS dispatch center, which will pass it on to the local 911 center. User data can’t be used for any non-emergency purpose, Apple said.

For users in the United States, nothing will change on the surface: If you’re in trouble, dial 911.

But behind the scenes, the new feature could reduce response times in emergency situations, Apple and RapidSOS said. The change is included in iOS 12, the newest version of the iPhone software, which will be released this fall.

“This new functionality is an example of how companies and first responders can use technology to dramatically improve public safety,” former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement.

RapidSOS is the same system that Uber is using to offer 911 calls inside of its apps.

Apple included an emergency calling feature in recent versions of the Apple Watch, and has updated its 911 systems earlier this year to give additional location information in Europe, with a system called “Advanced Mobile Location.”

Apple has also faced issues with locating deactivated devices in its repair factories that accidentally called 911.

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