Tech companies build tools to bring 911 calls into the 21st century — but people are wary

More and more tech companies are building updated emergency response tools -- and despite their utility, some people are concerned about privacy.

August 5, 2019

In a world where our smartphone apps know our locations to within a few yards at any given moment, 911 responders still often have trouble pinpointing the locations of victims due to outdated technology.

To fix the problem, tech companies are developing systems to modernize 911 call systems — but not everyone’s comfortable putting Google and Amazon in charge.

Sometimes, 911 is a new feature

Google announced last week it will use text-to-speech tech to enable Pixel owners to relay the type and location of their emergency without speaking, extending a location-sharing 911 feature rolled out in 2017.

And Amazon’s smart-doorbell-turned-home-surveillance company, Ring, partners with local police departments to share emergency data back and forth, according to a Gizmodo report.

It’s not just Google and Amazon, either: A startup called Carbyne also raised $15m to expand its “next-gen 911 service.” 

But there’s a trade-off between speed and privacy…

And Amazon, in particular, has been criticized for positioning Ring as the gatekeeper of emergency information — and playing fast and loose with customer data by passing it on to police without explicit consent.

Ring’s “Neighbors” app accesses real-time 911 call data from local police departments (it currently partners with 225 across the US) and displays it in users’ feeds. It also lets users report “suspicious activity” publicly to neighbors and police.

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