Android's Emergency SOS feature causes a spike in accidental 999 calls

Android emergency SOS settings screen
(Image credit: Jay Bonggolto / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • The new Emergency SOS feature on Android phones has been inadvertently triggered by many users, resulting in a significant increase in 999 calls in the UK.
  • Emergency SOS was introduced in 2021 as part of Android 12, but a surge in accidental calls was only reported after the feature was refreshed with Android 13 last year.
  • Police Scotland advises people to stay on the line, even if the call was made inadvertently, to let call handlers know they are safe.

The Emergency SOS feature on Android phones is designed to be a life-saving tool, but it has been accidentally triggered by many users, leading to a surge in 999 calls, according to Police Scotland.

Law enforcement officers have issued guidance after reporting a significant increase in accidental emergency calls, which was chalked up to a recent update to Android's Emergency SOS feature. Google introduced emergency calling in 2021 as part of Android 12. Once turned on, Emergency SOS automatically dials emergency services when you press the power button five times in rapid succession.

The feature is something that users will hopefully never have to use, although they should be aware of it in case of an emergency. However, those that have enabled the service have apparently called 999 by mistake at some point in time, clogging the emergency hotline number unnecessarily.

"BT is reporting a significant increase in accidental calls to 999 following an Android update that triggers an SOS when a button on the side of your phone is pressed 5 times," Police Scotland stated in a tweet.

According to the law enforcement agency, operators do not simply ignore 999 calls, even if they are unable to hear anyone on the line. As a result, emergency services may be deployed to someone who doesn't really need them. It is recommended that people stay on the line, even if the call was made inadvertently, to let call handlers know they are safe.

In June, the National Police Chiefs' Council disclosed that emergency services experienced record-high 999 call volumes on a national scale, blaming the Emergency SOS feature update on Android phones. While the feature was introduced in 2021, the BBC reports that the so-called "silent calls" saw a spike after it was refreshed with the release of Android 13 last year.

The NPCC advises people to turn off the feature by navigating to the Settings menu and then selecting "Safety & emergency." From there, tap the "Emergency SOS" option and toggle off the functionality.

If you need to enable it again, setting up the personal safety feature should be pretty easy, but for the time being, the police are advising users to refrain from using it. For its part, a Google representative told the BBC that OEMs have sole control over how the feature works on their respective phone models.

Jay Bonggolto
News Writer & Reviewer

Jay Bonggolto always keeps a nose for news. He has been writing about consumer tech and apps for as long as he can remember, and he has used a variety of Android phones since falling in love with Jelly Bean. Send him a direct message via Twitter or LinkedIn.