Starting in iOS 12 this Fall, iPhones will transmit precise location data to US emergency services when 911 is dialed. This should help first responders get to emergency situations much quicker, and those precious extra minutes could save lives.
The existing 911 emergency call infrastructure dates from the 1960s and is woefully outdated in a world where around 80% of calls come from mobile devices. Though public safety answering points (or PSAPs) can track a fairly accurate location from a landline call, it’s much more difficult from a mobile device – until now, that is.
Apple has partnered with RapidSOS to deliver this new feature, which aims to improve the ability of emergency services to deal with problems as quickly as possible. First responders already get a rough location from most mobile devices, but this change make the data far more precise and far more helpful. As a side benefit, it could even help to deter prank callers who waste the PSAP’s time.
For those worried about the privacy implications of your device automatically sharing location data – Apple assures us that the technology only kicks in when a 911 call is initiated and is sent securely to the first responder team. The data will never be shared with anyone else, and if you’re lucky enough to never have to call 911 the data won’t exist at all.
A similar feature is already in place in the UK and several other European countries through an Advanced Mobile Location function added with iOS 11.3 earlier this year. It’s a positive step from Apple and one that will hopefully save a few lives.