A post on Facebook makes several incorrect claims about the upcoming Emergency Alert test on Sunday 23 April.
The post claims “This new emergency alert that will be deactivating all of our phones on the 23rd of April to test it works?!? This will keep your phone deactivated until you follow the instructions they plant into our software and any other control they want over us!! Which then, they will have access to your locations, mobile data and a lot more than you don’t even know yourself!”
While the alert will behave like a notification that you need to acknowledge before you can use other features, it will not give the government or any other entity access to your location or any other data.
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What is the emergency alert?
The Emergency Alerts government service will warn people via their phones or tablets if there’s a nearby “danger to life”, for example in the case of severe flooding, fire or extreme weather. Only emergency services and government departments, agencies and public bodies dealing with emergencies will be able to send the alerts, with advice about how to stay safe during the emergency.
The system is due to be tested across the UK on Sunday 23 April at 3pm. The alert will appear on devices that use 4G or 5G networks and will appear as a notification, vibration and loud siren-like sound for about 10 seconds.
You will need to acknowledge the alert
The post says the alert will “deactivate” your phone “until you follow the instructions they plant into our software”. It’s not clear what this reference to software means, but the alert will not render your phone completely deactivated as such.
According to the government: “[The alert] will appear on your device's home screen and you must acknowledge it before you can use other features.”
The Cabinet Office previously confirmed to Full Fact that phone calls won’t go to voicemail if you haven’t acknowledged the alert and the alert won’t stop a phone call in progress. Other notifications will also still come through to your phone. However, in order to answer a call or view notifications, you will need to acknowledge the alert.
The alert will not access your personal data
When an alert is triggered, all cell towers in the area concerned will broadcast the alert to connected devices. The government doesn’t need to know your location or phone number to do this.
The Cabinet Office confirmed to Full Fact that no personal data is collected by the alert.
We’ve previously checked false claims that the alert will breach GDPR, access personal data, or match data with information collected by the NHS Covid-19 app during the pandemic.
Misinformation about what data is being collected may lead to unnecessary alarm, and in this case, may cause people to opt out from receiving the alerts and therefore risk not being warned about nearby dangers.
Some people may choose to opt out for other reasons. For example, the domestic abuse charity Refuge has released a video explaining exactly how to turn off the alerts, for those who may have secret or secondary phones hidden from an abusive partner. The alert will make a sound even if the device is on silent.
The consumer magazine Which? has also warned that scammers may send similar looking messages around the same time, possibly in genuine attempts to access your personal data. The exact text of the real government test message has been released, and will tell people they do not need to take any action. Which? warns that anything asking you to download an app, set something up or provide personal information may be a scam.
Image courtesy of Jamie Street