iPhones and Android phones have an Emergency SOS feature to help you contact the police or other emergency services when needed, without dialing the number. But while this shortcut to assistance is useful and potentially even life-saving, it’s currently causing a lot of problems on some Android phones.
Speaking to the BBC, the UK police have said that the Emergency SOS feature is being accidentally activated on some Android phones. It sounds like it’s wasting a significant amount of police time, too, with Devon and Cornwall Police saying that they received 169 of these accidental calls between midnight and 7pm on Sunday alone.
Worse, because these calls are typically silent, it reportedly takes around 20 minutes for the police to deal with each of them, as they need to establish that it’s not a genuine call.
As a result, they urge callers to stay on the line – if they’re even aware that they’ve made the call in the first place – and tell the operator it was a mistake.
A pocket problem
So why are these calls happening? Well, Emergency SOS gets triggered if you press the power button on your phone five times or more, so this is presumably accidentally happening in pockets. Some manufacturers offer alternate means of activating Emergency SOS, but that's the default.
Not all phones have Emergency SOS enabled by default, but some do – we found that the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, for example, has it enabled by default, while the Pixel 7 Pro has it disabled by default. As a result, you might have it enabled without even realizing.
While these silent call reports are coming from the UK police, this issue is of course not exclusive to the UK. Other European countries have recently made similar claims, and presumably the issue exists in the rest of the world too.
Interestingly, Emergency SOS was added in Android 12, yet it seems as though this has become more of an issue with the update to Android 13, though it’s not clear why.
In any case, a Google spokesperson has spoken to the BBC, saying "To help these manufacturers prevent unintentional emergency calls on their devices, Android is providing them with additional guidance and resources."
“We anticipate device manufacturers will roll out updates to their users that address this issue shortly. Users that continue to experience this issue should switch Emergency SOS off for the next couple of days."
A flawed system
So, it sounds like software updates should hopefully soon make this less of an issue, but we’d argue that the very method of enabling Emergency SOS is the main problem.
On the iPhone, it requires holding two buttons at the same time, and then either dragging a slider or – if you keep holding the buttons but don’t drag the slider – being treated to an audible alert before the call is placed.
This sounds like a system that’s much less likely to accidentally call the emergency services, so Google might want to consider making some changes – perhaps alongside the launch of Android 14.
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James is a freelance phones, tablets and wearables writer and sub-editor at TechRadar. He has a love for everything ‘smart’, from watches to lights, and can often be found arguing with AI assistants or drowning in the latest apps. James also contributes to 3G.co.uk, 4G.co.uk and 5G.co.uk and has written for T3, Digital Camera World, Clarity Media and others, with work on the web, in print and on TV.