Apple sets up iPhones to relay location for 911 calls

James Marshall
June 23, 2018

Apple said Monday that when the iOS 12 update comes out later this year, it will include a feature that will let first responders "automatically and securely" access a person's location from their iPhone when they make a 911 call.

According to the National Emergency Number Association (NEMA), over 240 million calls are made to 911 per year, approximately 80 per cent of which are made from mobile devices, but "outdated, landline-era infrastructure" makes it hard for emergency centres to obtain a mobile caller's location.

The technology used by 911 centers hasn't changed much since the first 911 call was placed 50 years ago, Ekl says, adding that there are about 6,300 such centers across the US, mostly run by local governments.

RapidSOS's system will deliver the emergency location data of iOS users by integrating with many 911 centres' existing software.

Apple devices provide us with the best possible location on our smartphones every day.

The service will be available later this year, Apple said.

Apple is trying to drag the United States' antiquated system for handling emergency calls into the 21st century. It will see the location of USA iPhone users shared with dispatch responders during 911 calls.

Only the responding 911 center will be able to privately access the location of a caller-and that's the only information they can retrieve from a user's iPhone. With the release of iOS 12, very precise location details for emergency calls will be a standard feature. "This is part of the phone's Operating System - users do not need to have an app installed on their phone for their location to be shared during a 9-1-1 call", claimed Ekl.

Apple, along with startup company RapidSOS, will be able to calculate a caller's location based on data collected from Wi-Fi access points, nearby cell towers and Global Positioning System. "It has not made the evolution into the digital era", said former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, who is an investor in RapidSOS.

The case could impact the multibillion-dollar app ecosystem, and efforts by companies like Apple to establish a so-called "walled garden" for software on their devices.

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