On Monday, Apple unveiled plans to work with 911 centers to automatically share the exact locations of iPhone users that need to call in an emergency.
Under a collaboration with startup company RapidSOS, Apple’s current Hybridized Emergency Location system will integrate with 911 centers’ existing software. Apple’s system uses technology that estimates a phone’s location with data from cell towers, GPS and Wi-Fi access points.
The update is expected to roll out later this year as part of iOS 12, the next version of Apple’s mobile operating system. Google is testing a similar system for Android-based phones.
Privacy concerns have been at the center of this sort of location sharing in the past. However, Apple said that with the new feature, “user data cannot be used for any non-emergency purpose and only the responding 911 center will have access to the user’s location during an emergency call.”
Former top officials at the Federal Communications Commission lauded Apple’s move.
“Helping 911 services quickly and accurately assess caller location has been a major issue since my time at the FCC,” Dennis Patrick, who was the FCC chairman from 1987 to 1989, said in Apple’s press release. “This advancement from Apple and RapidSOS will be transformative for emergency response in the United States.”
Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said “lives will be saved.”
The FCC is requiring all carriers to have the capability to locate mobile callers within 50 meters (164 feet) for at least 80 percent of wireless 911 calls by 2021.
“iOS location services are capable of exceeding this requirement today, even in challenging, dense, urban environments,” Apple said.