Apple to iPhone owners: 'iOS 12 will auto-share your location in 911 calls'

Calling 911 from an iPhone will soon automatically share the device's location with 911 centers.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer on

Apple has announced a new feature coming in iOS 12 that will automatically share the location of an iPhone with emergency services when users ring 911.

The iOS 12 feature is aimed at providing faster and more accurate information to first-responders and cutting emergency response times.

Apple says about 80 percent of 911 calls come from mobile devices, but outdated infrastructure makes it difficult for 911 centers to locate a device's location.

Apple launched its HELO or Hybridized Emergency Location system in 2015 as part of its answer to this problem. It uses cell-tower data, GPS, and Wi-Fi access points to estimate a mobile 911 caller's location.

The Wall Street Journal reported in January that AT&T and T-Mobile recently started using Apple's HELO, while Verizon and Sprint were testing a similar system from Google.

Apple is partnering with the firm RapidSOS on the iOS 12 feature, using its IP-based "data pipeline" to securely share HELO location data with 911 centers. RapidSOS's technology integrates with 911 centers' existing software.

SEE: How we learned to talk to computers, and how they learned to answer back (cover story PDF)

Given Apple's firm stance on iPhone user privacy, the company stresses that user location data cannot be used for any non-emergency purpose, and only the 911 center will have access to the user's location during an emergency call.

"Communities rely on 911 centers in an emergency, and we believe they should have the best available technology at their disposal," said Tim Cook, Apple's CEO.

"When every moment counts, these tools will help first responders reach our customers when they most need assistance."

iOS 12 is due out this fall and the combined systems could go a long way to helping carriers meet FCC rules that require them to be able to locate callers within 50 meters at least 80 percent of the time by 2021.

"This will accelerate the deployment of Next Generation 911 for everyone, saving lives and protecting property," said Rob McMullen, president of the National Emergency Number Association, the 911 Association.

Tom Wheeler, former FCC Chairman from 2013 to 2017, said: "Lives will be saved thanks to this effort by Apple and RapidSOS."


The new iOS 12 feature aims to get accurate location data to first-responders more quickly, cutting emergency response times.

Image: Apple

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Apple's iOS 11 includes a great SOS feature for when you feel unsafe in an emergency, but you may want to disable the feature on your iPhone or Apple Watch to avoid accidentally calling 911.

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