With iOS 12, Your iPhone Location Can Be Automatically Shared with 911

Imagine you’re out driving but aren’t sure exactly where you are, and you suffer some type of emergency. You call 911, but you aren’t able to tell the operator where you are so that they can find you. You can waste valuable time trying to find out where you are so that help can find you. But once you update to iOS 12, your iPhone’s location can be automatically shared with 911 centers.

This is actually a real situation that happened to a neighbor of mine. She was traveling back from her husband’s funeral and had car trouble while on the highway. Mind you, this was January in Chicago, so the weather conditions were not great.

The new widow did what everyone is taught to do: she called 911. They asked her where she was, but she had no idea where exactly she was on the highway. She knew what landmarks she had just passed, but that wasn’t good enough for help to find her. They wanted her to walk to a mile marker on the highway to pinpoint her location. It would have been a long distance for her and just not possible. Again, it’s in the middle of winter, and she was returning from her husband’s funeral.

My neighbor argued with 911, saying she thought they had a way to find her with some type of location-tracking service, but they told her they didn’t have such a thing. She was left to try and drive her vehicle off the highway to look for help. Eventually, after stopping at a hotel, she was able to get a tow truck out to help her.

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But it shouldn’t have to be this way. With the technology that is available to us with location tracking, help should be able to find us if we need it. Apple is making sure they’ll be able to.

Apple announced this week that iOS 12 will include a new feature that will automatically share your location with first responders after you dial 911 in the U.S. with your iPhone. They’re trying to handle that very problem that happened with my neighbor.

An outdated infrastructure makes it difficult for your location to be found with accuracy and swiftness, yet it’s estimated that eighty percent of calls to 911 are from cell phones.

It seems like something Apple has been working on for awhile. Three years ago the company started with Hybridized Emergency Location (HELO). This service estimates a person’s location with GPS and Wi-Fi access points.

In their recent announcement they said they are now adding RapidSOS’s Internet Protocol-based data pipeline. This will share the location data obtained with HELO to 911 centers, allowing them to find you more quickly.

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The FCC is jumping into this as well. They will start requiring mobile phone companies to locate callers at least eighty percent of the time within 50 meters, and they want this to be in place by 2021. Apple’s location services have already surpassed that mark, and now they’ll be able to get that data to 911 centers.

Communities rely on 911 centers in an emergency, and we believe they should have the best available technology at their disposal,” read a statement by Tim Cook. “When every moment counts, these tools will help first responders reach our customers when they most need assistance.

Of course iOS 12 isn’t available just yet unless you are a developer. However, it is expected to be available to all users in September, and a public data should be available even sooner.

What do you think of this technology? Are you surprised that 911 operators don’t already have a method to access your location? Have you ever been in a position where you needed help but didn’t know your location? Chime in with your thoughts and stories to the comment section below.

3 comments

  1. Sounds like a great idea in theory but like most theoretically great ideas, they tend to flop when put into practice. How is Apple going to prevent unauthorized people from homing in on the iPhone signal?

    I was under the impression that most smartphones can be located through their GPS modules, even if GPS function is turned off.

    • I was under the same impression. I was shocked to learn that from my neighbor, that there was nothing they could do. After arguing with my neighbor, 911 told her to call the Illinois State Police, who only proceeded to tell her there was nothing they could do. They told her she should call 911. They both told her they had no way of finding her. But as we found out in the article, they can find you. They do have that knowledge. It’s just not knowledge that 911 operators have. But that’s what Apple will now be doing. They will be sharing that information with 911 centers, as it does know good if that information can’t get into the hands of first responders.

      • The big question that I feel needs still to be answered is whether Apple will be able to limit the location information only to first responders. Another question is whether the tracking will only be activated if 911 is called or whether it will be active 24/7/365.

        The following article suggests that we are being tracked through our smartphones whether we know it or not:
        https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/smartphone-location-tracking-privacy/
        So the tracking technology IS available but just hasn’t made it into the hands of those that would use it for the most noble of reasons – to save lives.

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