iOS 12 automatically shares your location when you call 911

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iOS 12 911 calls
iOS 12 will help you get faster emergency services.
Photo: Apple

Apple is making it easier for iPhone users in the United States to be located by the emergency services with iOS 12.

When the update rolls out to everyone this fall, users will be able to automatically and securely share their location data with 911 first responders to help reduce emergency response times, Apple confirmed today.

Apple says that around 80 percent of 911 calls today are made on mobile devices, but as a result of outdated, “landline-era” infrastructure, it’s still difficult for 911 centers to quickly and accurately obtain a caller’s location.

That’s going to change when iOS 12 makes its debut later this year.

iOS 12 will share your location with 911

Using an internet protocol-based data pipeline from emergency technology company RapidSOS, iOS 12 will automatically share your location data with 911 centers. This will provide them with the accurate information they need to get to you as quickly as possible “when lives and property are at risk.”

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

RapidSOS’s technology will integrate with existing software already used by many 911 centers. It will work in conjunction with HELO (Hybridized Emergency Location), which Apple introduced in 2015 to identify a 911 caller’s location using cell towers and on-device data sources like GPS and Wi-Fi.

Future technology today

The FCC requires carriers to locate callers to within 50 meters of their exact location at least 80 percent of the time by 2021. iOS location services are capable of exceeding this today, Apple says — even in challenging, dense, urban environments.

Its new partnership with RapidSOS makes these benefits available to everyone (in the U.S.) with iOS 12, rather than in years from now.

“This new functionality is an example of how companies and first responders can use technology to dramatically improve public safety,” said Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman from 2013 to 2017. “Lives will be saved thanks to this effort by Apple and RapidSOS.”

Apple will protect your privacy

And because this is an Apple feature, your privacy will be protected when you use automatic location sharing for 911 calls. Only the responding 911 center will have access to your location during an emergency call, Apple says, and they won’t be able to use it for non-emergency purposes.

Rob McMullen, president of the National Emergency Number Association, the 911 Association, says it is “thrilled that Apple is giving 911 centers access to device-based location data,” which will “accelerate the deployment of Next Generation 911 for everyone, saving lives and protecting property.”

iOS 12 is now available in beta for registered developers. It will be a free update for everyone with a compatible iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch this fall.