Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

Amber Alerts on your iPhone: Invasive, frustrating, necessary

Lex Friedman | Aug. 7, 2013
Folks on the west coast were surprised Monday night by a loud Amber Alert on their iPhones just before 11pm. Lex Friedman explains why Amber Alerts arrive, how to disable them and why you shouldn't.

What you should do
The biggest risk is that iPhone owners (and owners of other smartphones with WEA support) will disable Amber Alerts because of the annoyance factor. And yes, you can disable the alerts if you don't want to see (and hear) them: Go to the Settings app, choose Notifications, and scroll all the way down.

Of course, if more people turn them off, Amber Alerts unsurprisingly become less effective. That 4 a.m. Amber Alert in New York led to a tip that led to the capture of the alleged abductor.

It's understandable that the government would want these emergency alerts to be loud and invasive. But given that we're allowed to turn the messages off, perhaps the government and companies like Apple should work to find options to make the alerts more palatable, too. A simple option to use a standard beep instead of a siren sound, or the ability for the alerts to arrive quietly when Do Not Disturb is enabled, could make leaving those alerts turned on far easier for typical iPhone owners, without sacrificing the potential impact the alerts can have.

It also doesn't help that the government's messages via the WEA system are more limited than tweets: They get 90 characters to craft their messages, not enough to include all the relevant details available in an Amber Alert. That's because the system doesn't use the standard SMS approach; it's a special system that's not subject to delays or congestion from other messages.

Those 90 characters result in messages as tightly compressed as a classified ad, and with no link to further information; you're meant to seek out additional details on your own.

It's clear that the system could improve. But you might decide to leave Amber Alerts enabled on your device even before that improvement comes, even if it never does. The Find My iPhone feature doesn't respect your phone's Do Not Disturb setting, either. If it's good enough for your phone, it's good enough for someone else's kid.


Previous Page  1  2 

Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.