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Putting a Panic Button In Smartphone Users' Hands 175

Posted by timothy
from the menu-options-have-recently-changed dept.
theodp writes "If you own an Android phone, you may have inadvertently butt-dialed 911 from time-to-time. So, wonders Kix Panganiban, why don't our phones come with a universal 'Panic Button', that would make it just as easy to intentionally dial the police when it's truly needed? Panganiban envisions "a smartphone app that when triggered, would discreetly send out a distress message to contacts of your choice, and perhaps do some other functions that can get you out of bad (and maybe even life-threatening) situations." While a quick search reveals that some have taken a crack at apps that put a Panic Button in smartphone users' hands, are there good reasons why such a feature isn't just standard on mobile devices? And, with GPS and always-watching and always-listening tech only becoming cheaper and more ubiquitous, how far out in the future is it before your person can be continuously remotely monitored like your residence, even while mobile, and what might that look like?"
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Putting a Panic Button In Smartphone Users' Hands

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  • by QuietLagoon (813062) on Saturday December 21, 2013 @11:33AM (#45753713)

    are there good reasons why such a feature isn't just standard on mobile devices?

    Florida Woman Calls 911 After McDonald's Runs Out of McNuggets [google.com]

    .
    There are too many stupid people on this planet, and our emergency response people are already overworked without having to respond to McNugget shortages.

    • *sigh* (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Saturday December 21, 2013 @11:42AM (#45753785) Homepage Journal

      In today's world, few people seem to recognize an emergency situation. When I was growing up, the word "emergency" meant that someone's life was in jeopardy. One or more lives were in danger from an avalanche, a runaway train, a mad dog, a bank robber - something serious. And, people understood that they should avoid such emergency situations, or deal with the situation themselves.

      Today? As you point out, very stupid people think that it's an emergency when they can't get their Chicken McNuggets.

      Preposterous.

      I say we go back to dealing with our own little emergencies, and just call the cops to come clean up after the fact. After all, when seconds count, the cops are only minutes away! Let's just grow up, learn to avoid and/or deal with emergencies, and stop fretting over phone apps.

      • Re:*sigh* (Score:5, Insightful)

        by AK Marc (707885) on Saturday December 21, 2013 @12:04PM (#45753925)
        The police have worked their hardest to break that idea. I had a bike stolen. I called the non-emergency number to report it. I was told that to report a crime, I'd have to come to the station or dial 911. I've been to a station before, where the "guests" are treated like criminals, so I'd not do that. So the only practical way to report a non-emergency crime is to dial 911. The "stupid people" referred to wanted a police response because of a property disagreement. That they were black and inarticulate make news because we get to make fun of people for being stupid for doing what the police have explicitly told me was the "right" thing to do.

        The system is designed to make people make stupid choices, so we can bash the user, rather than fix the problem. One guy in the search suggested was criminally deprived of his property. That's worthy of a 911 call, as the police have personally told me. But no, lets make fun of him because it was "just a McDonald's hamburger."
        • But no, lets make fun of him because it was "just a McDonald's hamburger."

          I'm sorry, but to call 911 because you didn't get what you wanted at McDonalds is just plain stupid (and in some jurisdictions reason for a citation or arrest), no matter how to try to spin things based upon your weird personal experiences.

          • by AK Marc (707885)
            Three separate incidents I found (the top 3 in the suggested search) were of the same thing, McDonald's orders not filled properly. How about this. You got to a car dealer. You sign to buy a Ford Mustang. They give you a test drive with it (pictures on the menu). When you take delivery, there is no engine in it. You question them about it, and they say "all sales are final." You request a refund (which you are entiteld to by law). They refuse. So, do you take them to court, waiting years to get a re
            • by icebike (68054)

              Or it's the "normal" and "expected" response, but for arbitrary value numbers different than you think they should be.

              Certainly in the eyes of the less fortunate, petty theft may not seem so petty.
              And grand theft might be something they never have to worry about, having nothing that counts as "grand".

              Still, the law sets the value of various levels of theft. In Alaska, a stolen burger is Theft in the Fourth Degree [touchngo.com] and unlikely to receive any official police action, even if they did show up to keep the situation from getting out of hand. Your missing car engine case (contrived as it might be) is Theft in the Second Degree [touchngo.com]

              • by sumdumass (711423)

                Having a 911 button on a cell phone (bringing it back on topic) servers only to make people into children again, tattling to mom over trifles, instead of dealing with it as adults.

                At one time, all you had to do was press the 9 for several seconds and it would automatically dial 911 for you. It didn't even matter if you had service, as long as the frequency of the phone matched a tower in range, it would connect you.

                I used to get trac phones back in the late 90's and give them to people I knew without phone

              • by AK Marc (707885)
                Someone who makes a small amount of money would take a $10 "error" to be a larger problem than many other people would take a $100 error to be. The attitude on here is "I don't care if that missing food item is the same as saying "you don't eat tomorrow", the poor shouldn't have access to the emergency system for emergencies that I don't approve of." Apparently, I'm a flaming liberal only when surrounded by the Slashdot libertarians who insist on personal responsibility without personal empowerment.
          • by thegarbz (1787294)

            Actually it looks like she called 911 because McDonalds actually robbed her of her money and offered her a burger which she didn't want in return.

            But when does it become acceptable? If you go into a car dealership and spend $100000 on a Porche but then after you hand over the money you're told they don't have Porches but you can have the 10 Ladas out the back instead and no you I won't give you your $100000 back, is that worthy of a 911 call?

            • by quenda (644621)

              I won't give you your $100000 back, is that worthy of a 911 call?

              No, its not an emergency. Call the regular police number. 911 is for heart attacks, buildings on fire, and co-works going postal.
              You are just a richer version of the McNugget woman.

              • by thegarbz (1787294)

                A crime in progress is an emergency especially when there's scope for escalation.

                Calling the regular police number is a great thing to do later in the afternoon while when you realise something is wrong and there's nothing that can be immediately done about it. When the person robbing you is still standing right in front of you 911 is definitely the right course of action.

                Yes it's a crappy thing to do but what do you honestly think would have happened if she reported it a few hours later? Yeah absolutely no

        • This is what happens when the government is in charge of protection.

      • Uh, dude, she's not stupid, she's mentally ill. See, in America we do all we can to ignore mental illness and blame it on a. upbringing or b. ignorance. The best part about real mental illness is it's often acute. e.g. sudden shifts in brain chemistry can turn a regular person into on of you're 'stupid people' overnight. Plus it's chemical, and the imbalances are often hereditary. Where did you think the phrase "runs in the family" comes from?
        • Re:*sigh* (Score:4, Funny)

          by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday December 21, 2013 @12:52PM (#45754223)

          Where did you think the phrase "runs in the family" comes from?

          Diarrhea . . . ?

    • by gweihir (88907)

      Indeed. That is why they ask you "what is your emergency" and then decide what, if any, people to send.

    • There are too many stupid people on this planet, and our emergency response people are already overworked without having to respond to McNugget shortages.

      You'd be surprised to learn that there's even dumber reasons people call -- the most common call a 911 dispatcher gets is not shots fired, debris in road, or any of that... it's what the current score is for whatever game is currently on in town. I shit you not, people call by the thousands.

      People are dumb, stupid animals... but they occasionally get hurt, and need help. Even if 99% of the time, when they yell help it's over something utterly retarded, sooner or later, everyone is the 1% that really does ne

      • You'd be surprised to learn that there's even dumber reasons people call ...

        Why don't they tack on a $100 "911 call charge" to the caller's phone bill for every call? That ought to make the idiots learn pretty quickly.

        The charge would be waived if any emergency personnel are actually dispatched.

        • by Sique (173459)
          Because that would make the prank of calling 911 from your acquaintance's phone just more fun. And maybe call it several times. And then don't tell anyone who did the actual call.
          • And then maybe get a better circle of friends.
          • by Joce640k (829181)

            All calls are recorded, right? Get them to play it back to you.

            • by Sique (173459)
              You didn't get it, right? Someone is using your phone for a 911-call. And you are left with a $100 bill for each call. And none of your acquaintances will tell you who placed the call. Who do you sue?
              • You didn't get it, right? Someone is using your phone for a 911-call. And you are left with a $100 bill for each call. And none of your acquaintances will tell you who placed the call. Who do you sue?

                The calls are recorded. Surely you will be able to get a recording of the call. Also, there's not a $100 fine for owning a phone from which a call is made, but for making a call. The call coming from your phone is a strong indication that you made the call, but not conclusive proof.

                So they will have a recording of the call, a witness who will testify that it is your voice and you had access to the phone, so you are getting the fine, plus there will be criminal charges now because you intentionally did th

          • Because that would make the prank of calling 911 from your acquaintance's phone just more fun. And maybe call it several times. And then don't tell anyone who did the actual call.

            It would make it more fun for a short time, and a serious crime. You'd also run out of acquaintances rather quickly. Some of them would meet you again in a dark corner and give you some life lessons.

        • The article is really about a "Panic" button, not a 911 call. A "Panic" button that would automatically start sending live sound and continuous high res photos to a safe server, for example one owned by Apple / Google. Using both cameras if you have one on each side. So if you or someone else gets into trouble, with criminals or otherwise, there is undestructible evidence of it, and the criminals know it. Or if you think the police is doing something wrong, taking away your phone won't help them.
          • The article is really about a "Panic" button, not a 911 call.

            I'm aware of that. I was simply responding to the parent poster who did post about 911.

        • by JonBoy47 (2813759)

          In many jurisdictions, emergency response is required to dispatch responders for all 911 calls, regardless of the reported incident. The possibility exists that the party calling is under duress, and even failing that, there is just too much potential liability to not send a couple of uniforms in squad cars.

          Source: My then two-year-old son snuck into the office at my mom's house on Christmas Day, and used the emergency speed dial button on the phone to call 911. After babbling a bit to the dispatcher, he sa

    • by ImaLamer (260199)

      But the phone doesn't have to call 911. My locked phone gives me super fast access to emergency calls already.

      But I used this app [circleof6app.com] for quite some time because I would find myself in dodgy situations weekly. I knew there was a potential for harm, but I knew 911 wasn't going to be my best bet. Instead I already had my "team" know where I was heading and what time - and dialed them if needed so they could relay to 911 what the situation was. Thankfully I only needed it once and showed that I had and it was a de

  • by Skinkie (815924) on Saturday December 21, 2013 @11:36AM (#45753733) Homepage
    Pressing 4 times volume down, it would allow you to trigger an emergency sms. Such combination could work for a typical smartphone as well, including position information.
    • When I push X times volume down, I usually want the volume go down x steps, or want it on zero.

      Also, Siri: how can I help you?
      Me: emergency call.

      Also my locked I phone has an emergency call button at the keyboard.

      • by thegarbz (1787294)

        That's missing the point of this which is discrete and customisable. When someone is pointing a gun at you shouting "emergency call" at Siri probably isn't the best course of action.

        • by dwater (72834)

          >When someone is pointing a gun at you shouting "emergency call"

          That's quite unlikely. "Give me all your money!" is much more likely, I think...

        • That's missing the point of this which is discrete and customisable. When someone is pointing a gun at you shouting "emergency call" at Siri probably isn't the best course of action.

          "A photo of you has just been sent to a place where the police will be able to get it if anything happens to me". Sure the guy is annoyed, but annoyed enough to go to jail for murder when he _knows_ he is going to be caught?

          • by thegarbz (1787294)

            Wait what? How is that discrete? What next we do a selfie with the gunman? Maybe politely ask him to stand still for his mugshot.

  • by kruach aum (1934852) on Saturday December 21, 2013 @11:36AM (#45753735)

    To be useful, any panic button should be so easily accessible that it is open to the same accidental triggering as butt-dials. I can't think of a good way to resolve this issue, but it is something any proper app maker will have to deal with.

    • Re:The problem (Score:4, Interesting)

      by erikkemperman (252014) on Saturday December 21, 2013 @11:58AM (#45753879)

      The company I work at wanted to do something like this for, eg epilepsy patients. Triggered by accelerometers, would automagically try to contact from a preselected list of friends/relatives, using location tracking to find the nearest ones first. Would start to make loud noises and flash instructions on screen for passers by on how they might help. Escalate to real emergency services if need be. Pretty good idea, but we somehow never hot around to building it.

      Of course there was potential for false alarms by dropping the device, but in that case it would be no problem for the patient to deactivate it.

      • by Entropius (188861)

        That's actually a very good idea. And the false alarms could be dealt with by further readings from the accelerometer -- "in guy's pocket while he's seizing" and "dropped on ground" don't look the same.

    • by sumdumass (711423)

      A blue tooth ring either on your finger or a key chain or something- perhaps even in the pocket your money or wallet is in. Place an activator in a pocket and a button on the ring. When they are within a certain range, pressing the button in a certain sequence could activate the call or panic program discretely.

      Perhaps it could be even less complicated and you press the button only without an activation device but in a sequence not easily replicated by normal situations. Maybe by tapping out S.O.S in Morse

  • Liability (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BenJeremy (181303) on Saturday December 21, 2013 @11:39AM (#45753751)

    Who wants to be the first developer to get sued when your program doesn't dial 911 (perhaps because there is no signal)? Who wants to be the first developer sued because it got the location wrong?

    Way too much liability potential. IT is too important a thing to mess up, and you can bet that something will mess up eventually, and the developer will be blamed, regardless of whether or not they are actually responsible.

  • Sigh. (Score:5, Informative)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday December 21, 2013 @11:41AM (#45753767)

    Apparently people have already forgotten this has been done before. Before there were smart phones, there were just plain cell phones... tiny little indestructible bricks with flip-open LCDs. And it was thought that having a fast way to call 911, a panic button if you will, would be a useful feature. So pressing and holding '9' on these phones would connect you to emergency services.

    This feature was redacted from all phones, everywhere, within a couple years, because it innundated emergency services with so-called "butt dials" and wrong numbers. You do not want '911' to be a one-button push on a mobile device. It ends badly.

    • by anss123 (985305)
      My grandma has a phone with a single button for making an alarm call. It's straight forwards, easy to use, and promptly forgotten in any emergency situation. Features like these are fine on paper, but unless you call 911/the police often you will forget them in a panic.

      If movies and TVs always showed people pressing "the emergency button" instead of "911", then people might use it.
    • by s.petry (762400)
      This! It is not a difficult process to dial 911 today. Finding a panic button, or using a panic button, is not going to save anyone time or effort. If the panic button is unprotected, we will have a rash of false 911 calls from these phones and of course who pays the bill? The user who had their phone locked and went to the rest room? If the panic button is protected, the user still has to unlock their screen to get to said panic button.
    • by mark-t (151149)
      So how to you reconcile not having a single button push on a mobile device with a phone that has a lock screen. The point being that it should not require you a password on the lock screen to be entered in order to call emergency, but you do not want anyone who is not calling emergency to otherwise use the phone.
    • by antdude (79039)

      Or I/my dial-up modem accidently dials 911 instead of a local 91x-xxx number. That happened a few times. Ugh.

  • "Ok Google Now. Call 911."
  • Glance on my Pebble Smartwatch does this. I think a smartwatch is a much better place for a true "panic button". I mean, in a truly difficult situation you're going to have problems entering a passcode or pattern if you have your device locked... which you should, by the way.

    In Glance there's a function that allows me to set a button long press to send an emergency text to the contact of my choice including my longitude and latitude (obviously only as precise as the smartphone itself can manage). Quite a ni

  • On an Apple product it would be called the iPanick button.

    And have round corners.

  • The panic button was the first "app" I wrote for my N900, and I use that term very loosely. Actually, just a one-liner using an existing python script:

    python ssms.py NPANXXxxxx 'I''ve been kidnapped by aliens!'

    A crude drawing of an alien saved as an icon file and an entry in the desktop icons directory and I had a text message panic button.

    Naturally, I never tried adding the dialing of 911 in the script, for no other reason than testing it would call 911 and they don't like that.

  • by felrom (2923513) on Saturday December 21, 2013 @12:42PM (#45754171)

    I'm getting beaten. *Press panic button* *Wait 10 -15 minutes for the police to arrive.*

    The police are there to write reports and do light investigation. They are not, and never were, a rapid response force, ready at a moment's notice to alleviate your panic.

    The suggestion of panic buttons on phones is not only not helpful, it sends the problem further in the wrong direction. Some people will reason that since their phone has a panic button, they can take risks they might otherwise not.

    • by geekmux (1040042)

      I'm getting beaten. *Press panic button* *Wait 10 -15 minutes for the police to arrive.*

      The police are there to write reports and do light investigation. They are not, and never were, a rapid response force, ready at a moment's notice to alleviate your panic.

      The suggestion of panic buttons on phones is not only not helpful, it sends the problem further in the wrong direction. Some people will reason that since their phone has a panic button, they can take risks they might otherwise not.

      I'm not quite sure where you get your definition of police, but those armed with shotguns, sidearms, and MP-5's to go to work every day are NOT members of the elite Paperwork Pushers Unit. What you have described here is the job of the coroner, which is the result of having no police force at all.

      It has been proven that a first responder has actually saved lives before, and not just shown up to do light investigation. No shit. You should read about it.

      And for those elite folk who want to confuse a 911 ap

      • by swillden (191260)

        It has been proven that a first responder has actually saved lives before, and not just shown up to do light investigation.

        Absolutely, police responding to calls have saved lives and prevented crimes. We saw a good example recently in Arapahoe High School. But that only happens when the police happen to be close enough to respond in time, and if they decide to intervene. Generally they do, if they're around, but they're under no legal obligation to do so, at least in the US.

        The bottom line is that the old saw "when seconds count, the police are just minutes away", is absolutely correct. Because they're usually not present whe

    • The police are there to write reports and do light investigation. They are not, and never were, a rapid response force, ready at a moment's notice to alleviate your panic.

      Your focus on a single edge case has lead you to an erroneous conclusion.

      You seem to forget, there are other services that are reached via 9-1-1... like the fire department and EMS, which *are* rapid response forces. You also seem to forget that there *are* times when the polices and sheriffs are a rapid response force, such as a major t

  • There are already several apps that do this. The way they work is you have to "arm" the app. Next, you trigger the emergency function in a preset way, for example by discreetly unplugging the headset from the headphone jack.

    Having an always on emergency button would probably not work because it would lead to too many false alarms.

  • How do you "butt-dial" on a capacitative touch screen? Doesn't there have to be some actual (almost) skin contact?

    With physical buttons, I can see how it can happen, but with resistive touch screens it is already less likely...but with capacitative is seems extremely unlikely. Am I missing something?

  • ...and there are already phones with panic buttons. See: https://www.snapfon.com/ [snapfon.com]

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