A new feature could soon be available for Android phones that helps emergency service providers accurately pinpoint your location when you dial 911 from a mobile device. It’s already available in the UK and Estonia, and Google said it is “actively engaging” to expand to other countries.
When someone dials the 999 or 112 in the UK, the emergency operators use a combination of GPS and cellular base station triangulation to locate the caller. But these techniques aren’t always very precise, especially if the person is inside a large building.
Now, with Google's new Emergency Location Service (ELS), data from Wi-Fi connections, mobile infrastructure, and even apps are added to the mix, helping to identify a caller's position accurately. This information will automatically be sent to the emergency services, and the feature can even turn on a phone's location services if a user has them off.
All of the UK’s major networks support ELS, as do those in Estonia, and it is available on devices running Android 2.3 and above, which covers about 99 percent of Android mobiles.
The fact ELS can track so accurately and is able to turn on a device’s location services is obviously raising some privacy questions. But Google has assured people that the company never accesses the information.
"The feature is solely for the use of emergency service providers, and location is never seen or handled by Google," said Google. "It is sent from your handset to emergency services only when you explicitly place an emergency call, either directly or through your mobile network."
Google hasn’t said when or if ELS will come to the US. It’s definitely a feature that could save lives, but the decision to implement it could be left up to each individual carrier.