Android Phones in Iran Hit With False Quake Alerts Amid Ongoing Protests

False earthquake alerts went off on Wednesday on Android smartphones in Iran as the country continues to grapple with nationwide protests. Authorities offered conflicting accounts as to why the incident happened. Colonel Ramin Pashaei, deputy chief of Iran’s cyber police, told Iranian state television that only Android phones received the false alert. He blamed testing at state-owned service provider Iran Mobile Communications for the alert.

Meanwhile, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency described the incident as a hack and said: “This message is fake; do not leave your homes.” The two conflicting accounts of the event could not be immediately reconciled.

Google, which provides the Android software, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Iran has seen a series of hacks since the September 16 death of a 22-year-old woman named Mahsa Amini after her detention by the country’s morality police. Her death has sparked months of protests that now include calls for the overthrow of Iran’s theocracy, one of the greatest challenges faced by Tehran since the chaotic years after its 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Back in 2020, Google announced the launch its earthquake detection feature for Android phones around the world, using the smartphones to provide data that would eventually give billions of users precious seconds of warning when a tremor was detected nearby, alerting them to the possibility of an earthquake.

At the time, countries like Japan and Mexico were already reliant on land-based sensors, used to inform users of potential earthquakes, just like California. The alerts can help people located away from the epicentre of an earthquake enough time to find a safe space to move to before the quake begins.

The earthquake detection feature could also help these warnings reach more users around the globe, including areas prone to earthquakes in developing countries that do not have access to traditional sensors used to detect quakes.

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