Android bug prevents users from calling emergency services

A hand holding a Google Pixel 3 aloft with the home screen showing
(Image credit: IT Pro)

Google has confirmed an issue affecting some users running Android 10 and above whereby a user's phone would not allow them to dial the emergency services.

The small but significant bug affects some devices that have Microsoft Teams app installed, but without being logged in to the collaboration platform, Google said on Wednesday evening in response to a Reddit thread.

Google said it and Microsoft took the issue seriously and added that the pair "are heavily prioritising the issue". However, the company was somewhat vague when alluding to the time it will take to fix the flaw.

In the Reddit reply, Google said that a Microsoft Teams app update will be rolled out "soon". It also suggested Android users should always run the latest version of the mobile operating system and lookout for the next planned platform update due on 4 January 2022.

IT Pro contacted Google for clarity on whether it impacts users in the UK but it declined to comment further.

Google said the issue was caused by an "unintended interaction between the Microsoft Teams app and the underlying Android operating system", and that only one user report of the issue was confirmed - the user who made the initial Reddit thread on the Google Pixel subreddit.

On temporary fixes, Google suggested users check if they're running Android 10 or above, sign into Teams if they aren't already and remain signed in, reinstall Teams, and update the Teams app as soon as the update is available.

The user who originally raised the issue said they were trying to call an ambulance for their grandmother who appeared to be having a stroke at the time but was unable to and that dialling 911 simply rang once before their phone become "stuck".

"I was unable to do anything other than click through apps with an emergency phone call running in the background," said the user in the original report. "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."

Fortunately, the grandmother hand a landline phone and was able to call from that but with so many households opting out of landlines in favour of mobile-only connectivity, it presents a very serious issue of personal safety.

The user said they were using a Google Pixel 3 running Android 11 and on the Verizon network and have filed an official complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Visitors to the post were shocked to read about the situation and offered an outpouring of support, labelling it a "horrifying situation".

Others suggested that Google should offer the user a prize akin to one that might be given to a security researcher since the report and resulting cooperation in reporting the bug to Google was much like the process traditionally followed by a security expert submitting for a bug bounty reward.

Connor Jones

Connor Jones has been at the forefront of global cyber security news coverage for the past few years, breaking developments on major stories such as LockBit’s ransomware attack on Royal Mail International, and many others. He has also made sporadic appearances on the ITPro Podcast discussing topics from home desk setups all the way to hacking systems using prosthetic limbs. He has a master’s degree in Magazine Journalism from the University of Sheffield, and has previously written for the likes of Red Bull Esports and UNILAD tech during his career that started in 2015.