Ap­ple adds se­cure emer­gency lo­ca­tion fea­tures to get ahead of smart­phones’ 911 prob­lems

A new fea­ture will se­curely and ac­cu­rately re­lay your lo­ca­tion when you dial 911.

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - BY MICHAEL SI­MON

Ap­ple made a big deal about our dig­i­tal well-be­ing ( go. mac­world.com/smad) when it un­veiled IOS 12 ( go.mac­world. com/12bt) at WWDC, but there’s one fea­ture it didn’t dis­cuss that could have even greater life-sav­ing ben­e­fits.

In a re­cent press re­lease ( go.mac­world. com/e911), the com­pany out­lined how iphones run­ning IOS 12 will be able to share lo­ca­tion data au­to­mat­i­cally and se­curely with first re­spon­ders when you dial 911. Ap­ple says this will help re­duce emer­gency re­sponse times by pro­vid­ing faster and more ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion that cir­cum­vents “out­dated, land­line-era in­fra­struc­ture.”

But in re­al­ity, it’s even more im­por­tant

than that. Ac­cord­ing to the re­lease, roughly 80 per­cent of all 911 calls come from mo­bile de­vices, which shouldn’t come as a sur­prise. What may sur­prise some peo­ple is that it’s still dif­fi­cult for emer­gency re­spon­ders to pin­point some­one who calls 911 via cell phone. Cell-phone tower and GPS data aren’t that ac­cu­rate to be­gin with, and ev­ery­thing from phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers to weather con­di­tions can throw them off even more. If you turn off lo­ca­tion de­tec­tion on your phone, you’re turn­ing off an­other way for peo­ple to find you. The FCC is re­quir­ing car­ri­ers to be able to lo­cate callers to within 50 me­ters at least 80 per­cent of the time, but those rules don’t take ef­fect un­til 2021.

Ap­ple’s new fea­ture gets ahead of the game by en­sur­ing that most of the calls com­ing from iphones will de­liver timely, ac­cu­rate lo­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion without sac­ri­fic­ing the users’ pri­vacy. It’s part of an ongoing ini­tia­tive Ap­ple first launched in 2015 with its HELO (Hy­bridized Emer­gency Lo­ca­tion) sys­tem. That ser­vice can tri­an­gu­late a mo­bile 911 caller’s lo­ca­tion us­ing cell tow­ers and sen­sors on the de­vice it­self, such as GPS and Wi-fi ac­cess points.

In IOS 12, Ap­ple will be us­ing Rapid­sos’s In­ter­net Pro­to­col–based data pipe­line to “de­liver the emer­gency lo­ca­tion data of IOS users by in­te­grat­ing with many 911 cen­ters’ ex­ist­ing soft­ware, which rely on in­dus­try-stan­dard pro­to­cols,” the com­pany said. Ap­ple also em­pha­sized that the data shared with HELO and Rapid­sos would not be avail­able to any­one other than the re­spond­ing 911 op­er­a­tor dur­ing an emer­gency call.

Ap­ple’s sys­tem in IOS 12 is lim­ited to 911 calls in the United States. It’s un­clear whether a sim­i­lar sys­tem will be im­ple­mented for emer­gency calls in any other coun­try.

Why this mat­ters: At sim­ple face value, this is a fan­tas­tic fea­ture for iphones that gets ahead of the FCC’S 2021 rules. But there’s an­other is­sue at play here: The more we study IOS 12 and its new fea­tures, the more it’s be­com­ing clear that Ap­ple is dou­bling down on pri­vacy as a main dif­fer­en­tia­tor be­tween it and An­droid P.

While the crux of this new sys­tem is that Ap­ple is au­to­mat­i­cally shar­ing lo­ca­tion ser­vices, the com­pany is stress­ing pri­vacy as well, en­sur­ing that the data col­lected is avail­able to only one party and for a very spe­cific pur­pose. From Siri Short­cuts to Sa­fari’s new tools to limit ad track­ing, IOS 12 is sig­nif­i­cantly rais­ing the bar for pri­vacy on our phones. With the emer­gency lo­ca­tion fea­ture, our data will be pro­tected even when it’s the fur­thest thing from our minds. ■

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