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Apple to let 911 calls share life-saving info

I’m always singing the praises of smartphone technology and with good reason. These handy gadgets have opened a world of possibilities that you probably couldn’t imagine not that long ago.

It’s like having the power of a personal computer right in the palm of your hand. Think about all you can do. Conduct business through email, online banking, connect with family hundreds of miles way with social media, just to name a few things.

One downside is the fact that outdated landline-era infrastructure isn’t 100 percent compatible with mobile technology. This has made it difficult for emergency service centers to quickly and accurately determine a caller’s location. Good news, Apple has a plan to fix it.

Apple’s plan to make mobile technology safer

Nearly 80 percent of all 911 calls today come from mobile devices. That outdated infrastructure has made it difficult for 911 centers to obtain a mobile caller’s exact location in a timely manner.

Apple thinks it might have the solution. In 2015, Apple launched Hybridized Emergency Location (HELO) technology. This technology is able to estimate a mobile 911 caller’s location by using cell towers and on-device data sources like GPS and Wi-Fi access points.

Now, iPhone users in the U.S. who call 911 will be able to automatically and securely share their location data with emergency services. That’s because the tech giant announced this week it will also use emergency technology company RapidSOS’s internet protocol-based data pipeline to share HELO location data with 911 centers. It will roll out later this year with the release of iOS 12.

This collaboration will improve response time when lives are at risk. RapidSOS’s system will help deliver the emergency location data of iOS users by integrating with many 911 centers’ existing software.

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

The FCC requires carriers to locate callers to within 50 meters at least 80 percent of the time by the year 2021. Apple’s iOS location services are able to exceed this requirement already. This new feature will allow Apple to make these benefits available to local 911 centers now instead of years from now.

Will your privacy be at risk?

Apple says you don’t need to be worried about a loss of privacy because user data cannot be used for any non-emergency purpose. Only the responding 911 center will have access to a user’s location during an emergency call.

With any technology like this we need to be aware of potential privacy loss but if it saves lives we should give it a chance.

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