The Most Underutilized Personal Safety Features Built Into Your Phone

Get to know the safety tool that’s already in your pocket. In this article, learn about little-known features and safety settings that come standard on today’s smartphones.

The Most Underutilized Personal Safety Features Built Into Your Phone

 

Most of us have our phones within an arm’s reach at all times. Apart from using it to call 911, do you know about its built-in safety features? What about the settings that keep you, your property and your data secure? Read on to find out the best practices for both iPhones and Androids.

iPhone Safety & Security Features

The following features are unique to iPhones, but read on for similar functionalities in the Android operating system. 

Emergency SOS Mode

By default, the Emergency SOS feature is a quick way to call 911 with a few simple gestures. Once it’s fully set up, it also provides a quick access point for important medical information and personal emergency contacts that’s visible without unlocking your phone.

Launching Emergency SOS mode depends on which model of iPhone you have. With the iPhone 7 and earlier models, rapidly click the power button five times to launch the Emergency SOS screen. On the iPhone 8 and later models, squeeze both sides of the phone, hitting the volume and power buttons at the same time. If you’re not sure what model of iPhone you have, visit Settings > Emergency SOS for a diagram on how to launch it.

Once you enter emergency mode, swipe the Emergency SOS toggle switch to call 911. If you set your Emergency Contacts (instructions below) it will also automatically queue up a notification text, with your current location, to send them after your emergency call. You can choose to opt-out of sending the texts if you’re not in danger. 

One more good-to-know aspect of this feature: In a pinch, Emergency SOS can help protect your privacy. It temporarily deactivates TouchID and FaceID, so your biometrics can’t unlock the phone. This effectively prevents someone from physically forcing your hand or face to the scanner to get into your phone. 

Medical ID & Emergency Contacts 

Add medical info and emergency contacts through the iPhone’s built-in Health app. Open Health and then tap Medical ID in the lower right corner. All of this medical information is optional, but it’s a good idea to list anything that could be relevant to emergency personnel, such as serious allergies and health conditions.

Below medical info, you’ll see the Emergency Contacts section. Add individuals from your Contacts list and follow the prompts to indicate your relationship. Once you set these up, they’ll be visible through the Emergency SOS screen.

In case of an emergency, it’s helpful to know how to view someone else’s Medical ID or Emergency Contacts:

  • Activate Emergency SOS by and slide the Medical ID toggle; or
  • Tap “Emergency” in the lower-left corner of an iPhone’s lock screen. From there, tap “Medical ID” in the lower-left corner.

Do Not Disturb While Driving Mode

Smartphones are designed to be irresistible. Our brains release the feel-good chemical dopamine every time we get a notification. As a result, they’re really hard to put down, even when we know it’s dangerous. Do Not Disturb While Driving Mode can help curb this compulsion by limiting notifications and interruptions whenever you’re in a moving car. To turn on Do Not Disturb While Driving or review its configurations, visit Settings > Do Not Disturb > Do Not Disturb While Driving.

 

  • If Do Not Disturb mode is activated, it will automatically turn on whenever your phone detects you’re in a moving car. (If you’re a passenger, you can tap “I’m not driving” to turn it off.)
  • While you drive, the phone stays quiet and dark. The default exceptions are Maps navigation instructions, emergency notifications, timers and alarms.
  • People who text you receive an auto-generated response that you’re driving. 

The best part? It’s customizable. You can opt to allow messages from certain contacts, or choose whether to activate Do Not Disturb While Driving automatically, manually, or when your phone connects to a car’s Bluetooth system. Parents can also turn on Do Not Disturb While Driving mode on their child’s phone and require a parental passcode to turn it off. 

Best Practices for iPhone Settings

  • Periodically review app permissions. To minimize privacy and security concerns from third-party apps, periodically delete apps you don’t use and revoke permissions that aren’t necessary. Visit Settings > Privacy to review device utilities like Location Services, Microphone, Photos and more. For example, if you never check into places on social media, there’s no reason to allow the Facebook app to track your location. Audit which apps know your whereabouts at Settings > Privacy > Location Services. 
  • Stick with automatic operating system updates. Every now and then, a security issue is discovered within the iPhone’s software. When this happens, Apple pushes out a software update to patch it up. If you have automatic updates on, you won’t have to worry about being vulnerable for longer than you need to be. To make sure it’s on, visit Settings > General > Software Update > Automatic Updates. 
  • Turn on FindMyiPhone. If your phone is lost or stolen, this setting allows you to locate it by logging into your iCloud account in a web browser. From there, you can remotely instruct the iPhone to play a sound (to help you find it), enter Lost Mode (which displays a custom message on the phone’s lock screen), or Erase Data (to protect your accounts and info from meddling eyes). Activate FindMyiPhone at Settings > iCloud > FindMyiPhone.
Woman using smart phone, drinking coffee in cafe

Android Safety & Security Features

While Apple is the only company that makes iPhones, many different manufacturers make phones that run on Android software. Some companies choose to add bells and whistles on top of what’s built into the operating system. Depending on the model of phone you have, you may have more security features than the ones mentioned here, or you may need to follow slightly different instructions.

Add Emergency Contacts To The Lock Screen

To add emergency contacts, visit System Settings > Users & Accounts > Emergency Information. There, you can add contacts and define relationships about who to contact if something happens to you. Once these contacts are listed, they’ll be visible from the lock screen, usually by tapping “Emergency Call” and then “Emergency Contacts.”

Note: Samsung adds additional emergency features that are similar to Apple’s. You should still be able to utilize Android’s built-in features through your lock screen: Tap “Emergency call” at the bottom of the lock screen, then “Emergency Contacts” and “Add Contacts.”

Custom Lock Screen

Since relatively few people know how to find emergency contacts on someone else’s smartphone, you can make it easier by setting a custom lock screen. Visit the Security section of your device settings and then Lock screen preferences > Lock screen message. There, you can add a custom message that tells people exactly how to find your Emergency Contacts. Since Android doesn’t have a built-in Medical ID feature, you could also use the lock screen message to communicate vitally important health information.

Lockdown Mode

The latest version of Android software introduced Lockdown mode, a way to temporarily deactivate your device’s biometric unlocking features like facial recognition and fingerprint scanning. It also hides all notifications until you enter a password or PIN. Like Apple’s Emergency SOS mode, it helps to preserve your privacy and the security of your accounts.

To take advantage of this feature, you need to enable it first. In your device’s Security menu, visit Lock screen preferences and toggle the switch next to Show lockdown option. (Can’t see it? You might need to update your phone. You need Android 9 to use this feature.) Once it’s on, you can enter Lockdown mode from the device’s lock screen. 

Wondering why the smartphone industry is suddenly concerned about disabling these biometric unlocking features? Not-so-fun fact: These features arise from privacy concerns surrounding police investigations. Typically, police need a warrant to look into your property or to see information that’s protected by a password. However, courts have ruled that police can require you to unlock your phone using a fingerprint or facial recognition. In this sense, lockdown mode protects against unwarranted search and seizure. 

(Note: There’s no built-in Do Not Disturb While Driving mode in Android, but the Driving Detective app offers a similar functionality.)

Best Practices for Android Settings

  • Periodically review app permissions. At least once every month or two, go through your apps and ensure none of them have superfluous access to your location, microphone, photos or other utilities. Visit Settings > Apps (or Applications) and then click the icon (usually a gear cog or three dots) to see App permissions. 
  • Keep your phone and apps updated. Install updates for your operating system and apps to make sure you have all the latest security apps and features. To see and install operating system updates, go to Settings > System > Advanced > System Update. To automate app updates, open the Google Play Store app. In the menu, tap Settings > Auto-update apps. Select the “Over Wi-Fi only” option to conserve your phone’s data plan. 
  • Activate Find My Device. This setting will most likely be turned on by default. Nevertheless, it’s good to know about if you didn’t already. To turn it on or off, look for Find My Device in your phone’s Settings menu. If your phone is lost or stolen, you can visit google.com/android/find to track it down, play a sound or erase the data. 

Emily Ferron

Written by your home security expert

Emily Ferron