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How Google ‘inadvertently’ added 112 to phone list

Thomas K Thomas Mumbai | Updated on August 05, 2018

OEMs might have made the suggestion before official notification

Ever since Google admitted that it had inadvertently inserted emergency number 112, the key question being asked is why the Internet giant included the phone numbers in users’ contact list by default in 2014 when the Centre’s official order on the same was issued only in 2016.

Emails seen by BusinessLine suggest that there were discussions and letters exchanged between the handset industry and the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeITY) as early as 2013 on the issue of having an emergency number, much before the final notification was made by the Centre in 2016.

 

Background

Specifically, three letters from DeITY – sent on December 3, 2013, January 2, 2014 and January 22, 2014 – asked phone makers to do two things. First, to provide patches in the existing smartphones to enable dialling emergency number through a dedicated virtual key. Second, future feature phones (non-smart) that would be introduced in the country by various manufacturers to have one of the existing keys configured for activating the emergency number dialling even if the phone is locked. This was in the context of the Nirbhaya rape in December 2012 that shook the nation’s conscience, and citizens were demanding concrete action.

“Intense discussions have been held, led by the Finance Minister, involving Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), DOT, DeITY. Many permutations and combinations were discussed, including launching a government-sponsored device for security etc. etc.! We obviously advocated that mobiles are the best security shield and enhancing their capability. Amongst suggestions which were made during the deliberation was to use the existing and already configured standard GSM emergency number 112 as the distress number,” states a communication from Indian Cellular Association dated March 6,2014, seen by BusinessLine. Indian Cellular Association is the industry body representing mobile phone companies. “We are required to provide this feature in all future smartphones and featured phones. The process should be completed by end of April i.e. smart phones and featured phones which are to be imported or manufactured after May 1, 2014 should carry this feature,” stated the letter sent to all industry stakeholders. When contacted Pankaj Mohindroo, President, ICA, confirmed the letter sent in 2014.

Senior officials, who were then at the Ministry of Communications, confirmed that such discussions may have happened at that time. “There was a lot of pressure to do something post the Nirbhaya case. Finance Minister P Chidambaram had announced the SoS alert button for women in December 2013 so there was discussion on how best to do this,” said an official on condition of anonymity.

Based on these discussions between ICA and the Centre, Google might have been asked by the OEMs to incorporate the emergency number. Google did not comment. on this story.

Google statement

On Friday, Google issued a statement that an internal review had revealed that in 2014, the then UIDAI helpline number and the 112 distress helpline number were inadvertently coded into the SetUp wizard of the Android release given to OEMs for use in India and has remained there since.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had floated its consultation paper on the matter in March 2013. In the paper, TRAI did not propose any specific number as the emergency number. It was only in April 2015 that the regulator issued its recommendations to use 112 as the national emergency number.

Published on August 05, 2018

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