Android to Send Location Data to First Responders

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Android phones will soon be able to send your location to emergency services when you call 911, Google announced this week.

In fact, more than 99 percent of Android handsets—any device running Android 2.3 or later—already support this capability, using Wi-Fi and cellular tower triangulation to capture its precise location. Google is working with mobile network operators and emergency dispatch centers to add support on the receiving end.

The UK and Estonia are the first two countries to get the emergency location notifications, with the feature going live there yesterday on some networks, including Vodafone and O2. Google has also partnered with the European Emergency Number Association, which coordinates emergency services across the continent.

In a blog post, Google said it "looks forward" to making Android's Emergency Location Service available internationally, though the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on when or if it plans to roll out the feature in the US.

As for privacy concerns, "the feature is solely for the use of emergency service providers, and location is never seen or handled by Google," according to the company. "It is sent from your handset to emergency services only when you explicitly place an emergency call, either directly or through your mobile network."

Enabling Android to send location information with a 911 call could dramatically improve emergency response times, since more than 70 percent of emergency calls in the US come from mobile phones, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

An FCC rule called E911, implemented in 2005, requires wireless service providers to provide more precise location information to emergency service providers, including the latitude and longitude of the caller, which must be accurate to within 300 meters.

But mobile carriers often do not meet those requirements. A 2014 study found that nine out of 10 wireless 911 calls made in D.C. did not include accurate location data, and a series of outages in August 2014 prevented T-Mobile customers from making any 911 calls.

Last year, the FCC adopted rules to help emergency responders better locate wireless callers to 911.

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