Emergency alert won’t ‘access personal data’

27 March 2023
What was claimed

The emergency alert test on Sunday 23 April will be a message you must respond to in order to use your phone.

Our verdict

It will be a notification you will need to acknowledge to use other features but it will not, for example, end an existing phone call.

What was claimed

The emergency alert will access your personal data.

Our verdict

This is not true.

A post on Facebook, referring to the new Emergency Alerts system, claims: “It will be a hard one for me to let my phone go for a few hours but I won’t be responding to the message! If you fancy being controlled and have your personal data accessed then reply to the message!”

This is misleading.

While the alert will behave like a notification that you need to acknowledge before you can go on to use other features on your phone, this does not mean you are replying to it, as such. It also won’t access your personal data.

Honesty in public debate matters

You can help us take action – and get our regular free email

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. The alert will appear on devices that use 4G or 5G networks and will appear as a notification and loud siren-like sound for up to 10 seconds.

The alert will need to be acknowledged 

The alert will not be a message that needs to be replied to, but a notification that will need to be acknowledged before you can keep using your phone.

According to the government: “It will appear on your device's home screen and you must acknowledge it before you can use other features. They appear as a notification and may include telephone numbers or website links containing further information.”

The Cabinet Office 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 won’t access your phone’s 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.

Misinformation about what data is being collected may lead to unnecessary alarm, and in this case, may cause people to opt out and therefore risk not being warned about nearby dangers to them. 

We’ve also checked the image in this post, which claims you won’t be able to use your phone until you acknowledge the alert (which is true), but also falsely claims that when you do “the government will know exactly which phones are active, where and be able to link them to your personal data”.

We’ve also checked a false claim that the alerts will breach GDPR

Image courtesy of Marjan Grabowski

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.