The issue was discovered after a Google Pixel 3 user was unable to contact the emergency services for a family member.
US Android users who have the Microsoft Teams app have been urged to download an update after the app was found to be ‘break’ 911 calls.
A flaw meant that callers were unable to successfully complete calls to the emergency services, with one user struggling to call an ambulance for their grandmother.
Google and Microsoft have said that the issue is now resolved, thanks to a Microsoft Teams update, but the fact this was even possible raises serious questions about the relationship between third-party apps and operating system architecture.
How was the Bug Discovered?
Around two weeks ago, a Google Pixel 3 user reported in a post on Reddit that he had tried to call an ambulance for his grandmother via 911, only to find the phone freeze after a single ring.
Although his elderly relative had a landline, the user remarked in the post that “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.”
The calls failed to show up on the user’s phone call log, and Verizon, their carrier, had no record of the calls either.
The person’s location was still sent through to the ambulance service – and they were notified this was the case – but the person was unable to inform them what apartment number they were in, and couldn’t communicate other important information about their mother’s condition.
What was Causing the Issue?
Google’s Pixel Community account took to Reddit to explain why the bug was arising:
“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,” the community account explained, “and we are currently only aware of one user report related to the occurrence of this bug.”
According to Google, there was an ‘unintended interaction’ taking place between the Microsoft Teams app and the Android operating system on the user’s phone. Only users with Android 10+ have the capacity to be affected by the bug.
More Concerning Questions
Whilst impressed by the depth of Google’s response, the concerned users of Reddit have more questions.
“How is a 3rd party unprivileged app able to cause problems in such a system-level operation as an emergency call?” one asks.
The reason for this is that Android doesn’t really treat ‘calls’ as a core functionality of its operating system, which is why third-party apps, such as Microsoft Teams, can ‘take over’ jobs like making phone calls.
Even if VoIP apps like Microsoft Teams taking over calls is permitted on Android phones, calls to emergency service numbers shouldn’t be rooted through the app. On the other side of things, Microsoft Teams obviously shouldn’t block 911 calls.
The Microsoft Teams Android Update
Initially, Microsoft was advising users to sign in to the Microsoft Teams app (as opposed to leaving the app on the phone without any login credentials attached to it) and signed-in users were asked to uninstall and then reinstall the app.
However, Microsoft is now urging all users with the Teams app to download the latest version, which should be available on the app store.
Staying on top of your updates is vitally important not just to patch bugs that could land you in trouble like the Google Pixel user in this story, but also to shield yourself from viruses and malware.
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