Google Pixel Bug Prevented Users From Calling 911

A rare bug made a Google smartphone unable to contact emergency services.

Dec 13 2021, 5:08pm

One of the promises of ubiquitous phones is the ability to contact emergency services anywhere and anytime. Not being able to dial 911 on your smartphone is a nightmare scenario. Redditor KitchenPicture5849 lived this nightmare when their grandmother had a stroke and their Google Pixel 3 wouldn’t connect to emergency services.

“I had to call an ambulance for the grandmother on Friday as she appeared to be having a stroke,” KitchenPicture5849 said on the GooglePixel subreddit. “My phone got stuck immediately after one ring and I was unable to do anything other than click through apps with an emergency phone call running in the background. This is all while the phone informed me that it had sent my location to emergency services. Sadly I couldn't tell the person on the other end what apartment I was in, or what the actual emergency was as I was unable to speak to a human.”

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Thankfully, KitchenPicture5849’s grandmother had a landline and they were able to call 911 without rebooting their phone. “I'm hoping that someone from Google can let me know that you're solving this problem,” they said. “Cause let's be real, as someone without a landline, I sure as hell don't want a phone that freaks out when I try to call 911 in the middle of a life threatening emergency. I'm supposed to trust that a phone will do the main thing it is built for, and place the call, and let me speak to the human on the other end.”

KitchenPicture5849 tried to replicate the error later and was still unable to call 911. Five minutes after trying to call 911 and their phone telling them it had contacted emergency services, there were no sirens or evidence that a call had been made. A call to 911 isn’t in the log on their phone or in the separate log that Verizon maintains. 

According to KitchenPicture5849, they contacted Google and planned to file a complaint with the FCC. Nine days later, Google responded to the thread with a detailed explanation of what had happened. It blamed Microsoft Teams.

“Based on our investigation we have been able to reproduce the issue under a limited set of circumstances,” PixelCommunity—an official Google account—said in the thread. “We believe the issue is only present on a small number of devices with the Microsoft Teams app installed when the user is not logged in, and we are currently only aware of one user report related to the occurrence of this bug.”

According to PixelCommunity, Google and Microsoft are working on a fix for the issue. In the meantime, uninstalling Microsoft Teams or making sure you’re always signed into it should prevent 911 from failing. “We take issues like this extremely seriously, and want to thank u/KitchenPicture5849 for bringing it to our attention.”

VoIP and other phone replacement services generally can’t dial into 911. Skype, MagicJack and other phone replacement services have something like 911, but it’s not always as simple as picking up the phone and hitting three numbers. This isn’t the case for smartphones operating on traditional phone lines and, for a long time, has been a big selling point for staying with more traditional carriers and services.

According to KitchenPicture5849, Google never reached out to them directly. “At this point no one from Google has reached out to me to let me know 1) that there was a bug confirmed and it wasn't just my phone, or 2) how to fix it,” they said. “Thank goodness Reddit peeps tagged me in things to make sure I was aware that there was a response and a fix for it. You would think with a bug this big Google would have at least responded in our email thread we have going to inform me how to fix it.”

“It's amazing how a phone can bring feelings of safety, and how shockingly unsafe one feels when they know their phone is royally effed. The world is a tad bit scary when you're a woman alone walking your dog at night after a day in the hospital. Especially when you're a woman walking their dog alone at night who can hear gun shots a few streets down and is acutely aware of her inability to call 911 for help. Be it for her own safety or for someone else's.”

Tagged:

Google, 9/11, VoIP

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