Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Canadian mobile emergency alerts creating a backlash

I had my first experience yesterday of Canada's new mobile emergency alert system, and I have to say it really freaked me out. A sound like a deranged klaxon was alerting me to, not an earthquake or a nuclear attack, but a missing boy in a small town in Northern Ontario, about two days drive from here. Another alert shortly after assured me that the boy had been found anyway.
Now, I understand the point of such amber alerts, and I certainly understand the need for emergency preparedness alerts for major floods, fires, terrorist attacks, etc, but they have to be at least geographically relevant in order to hold people's attention. Am I going to get tsunami alerts for the west coast of BC in the middle of the night, or a terrorist threat in Halifax? Research shows that too many alerts risk alienating users, and there have certainly been a lot of complaints about this particular one. Also, even though the authorities are calling it a successful test, there do appear to have been some substantial glitches in the system: some people might have received it late, and others not at all (my wife didn't, for example, despite having an up-to-date phone and using the same provider as muly daughter, who DID receive it).
And, what's more, there is no way to unsubscribe from these alerts, and that is really pissing people off. Despite the initial efforts of phone service providers (who wanted to make it an opt-in option), these alerts are mandatory for all phone users, and there is not even any way of changing the notification racket, short of turning your phone off or keeping it on mute.
I must confess to not being completely comfortable with the alerts, although if they are indeed few and far between, it might not be such a big deal. It just seems like another example of technology being foisted upon us willy-nilly, not dissimilar to the Google Instant Apps debacle, which I will write about next.

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