India mandates panic button and GPS on all phones to help keep women safe

India's telecommunications ministry is quoted to have ordered a panic button on all mobile phones sold in that country as early as January next year, as part of an effort to enhance safety for women -- Bloomberg reports.

The order requires handset makers to implement an emergency feature that could be activated by holding down the numbers '5' or '9' on a keypad. The function will be mandatory on all phones by January 1st, 2017, while the satellite-based location technology (GPS navigation systems) will be mandatory on all devices by 2018. Last month, officials said that a centralized emergency number, 112, would be introduced this year.

All manufacturers, including giant companies such as Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co., have to comply.

"Technology is solely meant to make human life better and what better than using it for the security of women," Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in a statement.

“A panic button should be relatively easy to implement,” said Neil Shah, research director for devices and ecosystems at Counterpoint Technology Market Research in Mumbai. Adding satellite-based global positioning to cheaper handsets could be harder, but about 90 percent of the devices shipped by 2018 will probably be smartphones, he said.

India is among the fastest-growing smartphone markets and has about one billion mobile-phone users. That’s spurred demand for technology-based security assistance in a nation with an average of four women abuses an hour and one of the world’s lowest police-to-citizen ratios.

Women's safety in India have drawn worldwide attention following reports of gang abuses on women and other forms of violence. There were more than 330,000 reported cases of violence against women in 2014, according to government statistics, a nine percent increase from the previous year. The issue has spurred some companies to develop apps and services that make it easier for women to contact emergency services. India's minister for women and child development, Maneka Gandhi, pushed for mandated panic buttons last year.
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