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New ways your phone can keep you safe in an emergency but you need to set up now

Smartphones are already deeply integrated in our daily lives, which presents a unique problem for the tech companies designing them: What can be done next?

So far, we’ve already seen companies like Apple and Google add lifestyle enhancements and current event-related features to their respective operating systems, such as contact tracing and easier screen-locks for mask wearers. Tap or click here to see how to get these features on your iPhone.

But beyond enhancements for COVID-19, how can a smartphone become an even more essential product for people to use? Google thinks it has the answer in the form of new safety check-ins, which can potentially help you out during emergency situations. Could lifestyle features like this potentially reduce violence and crime in the world? Here’s what we know.

Forget what you’re doing — Google wants to know how you’re doing

Google just released its new Personal Safety app in the latest update for Pixel 3 and 4 series smartphones. Here’s how it works: The app gives you the ability to upload emergency contact information for several people you know and trust. Then if you’re ever in a sticky situation, you can send an emergency alert to all these contacts at once with the push of a button.

At the same time, a more important feature called Safety Check is also rolled into the app. You can set your phone to perform “checks” at regular intervals, where you respond and let your phone know you’re safe. If you fail to respond to one of these checks, the phone will automatically send out an alert without you having to do anything.

This is extremely significant for several reasons. People don’t always have access to their phones during emergencies, and should it be out of reach, there is often no way for a victim to call for help. With Safety Check, contacts are informed of your last immediate location, which can help pinpoint where you are to emergency services as well.

The update includes a few other new features that complement the Personal Safety app, including a battery monitor that drastically reduces power consumption as your phone gets closer to dying.

These new features have the potential to give people peace of mind when venturing outdoors again — especially now that quarantines are finally winding down in much of the world.

This is all well and good, but I don’t own a Pixel. What are my options?

Apple is already way ahead of you in terms of emergency options and contacts. You may not have access to safety check-ins, but Apple’s approach still makes it easy to get alerts out to your emergency contacts and emergency services.

Here’s how you can set up emergency contacts on your iPhone in the event of a crisis:

  1. Open the Health app and tap your profile picture or initials if you don’t have a picture.
  2. Tap Medical ID. 
  3. Tap Edit, then scroll to Emergency Contacts.
  4. Tap the add button to add an emergency contact.
  5. Tap a contact, then add their relationship. 
  6. Tap Done to save your changes. 

Note that you can’t add 911 as an emergency contact, but don’t worry. Apple’s SOS call feature automatically dials 911 for you.

Here’s how to make one:

  1. Press and hold the side button and one of the Volume buttons until the Emergency SOS slider appears. 
  2. Drag the Emergency SOS slider to call emergency services. If you continue to hold down the side button and Volume button, instead of dragging the slider, a countdown begins and an alert sounds. If you hold down the buttons until the countdown ends, your iPhone automatically calls emergency services.

iPhone 7 models and earlier have slightly different instructions:

  1. Rapidly press the side (or top) button five times. The Emergency SOS slider will appear.
  2. Drag the Emergency SOS slider to call emergency services.

Once your call is complete, your emergency contacts will automatically be informed of your situation.

And if you’re looking for something more like the Personal Safety app, SafeTrek, Inc.’s Noonlight app works as an emergency button that you can hold in times of danger, and if you release it, it auto-dials 911 for you. It’s available through the Apple App store here, and you can also download it for Android smartphones on the Google Play Store here.

It also includes integration with the Tinder app, which is a major step forward for digital dating safety. Tap or click here to see apps and safety tips from an online dating expert.

In light of societal events and social unrest, it’s good to see tech companies putting the human element of their business model before trivial features and more advertising. Whether or not this trend continues remains to be seen. In the meantime, at least, online dating and socializing might feel a little less sketchy going forward.

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