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First California AMBER Alert Shows AT&T's Emergency Alerts Are a Mess

Soulskill posted about 8 months ago | from the learn-to-hyperlink dept.

Cellphones 380

Mark Gibbs writes "AT&T's implementation of the FCC's Emergency Alerts System provides minimally useful information in an untimely fashion with little geolocational relevance. ... Yesterday California got its first AMBER alert and my notification arrived at 10:54pm. It came up as panel over my lock screen and here's what it looked like on my notifications screen: 'Boulevard, CA AMBER Alert UPDATE: LIC/6WCU986 (CA) Blue Nissan Versa 4 door.' The problem with this it that's all there is! You can stab away at the message as much as you like but that's all you get, there's no link to any detail and considering the event it related to occurred over 240 miles away from me near to the Mexican border, the WEA service seems to be poorly implemented. Indeed, many Californians were annoyed and confused by the alert and according to the LA Times 'Some cellphones received only a text message, others buzzed and beeped. Some people got more than one alert.' I got a second copy of the alert at 2:22am and other subscribers reported not receiving any alert until late this morning." It seems to have gone down about as well as New York's.

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380 comments

missing the main point (5, Insightful)

0WaitState (231806) | about 8 months ago | (#44494515)

Earth to submitter: AT&T is a mess.

Re:missing the main point (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44494983)

You too are missing the actual main point:

Terrorism: To fearmonger and harass people into agreeing with any measure they normally wouldn't want. Like even more surveillance.

Cryptic vagueness and overreaching coverage are not bugs. They are features.

This is AT&T's fault how? (5, Interesting)

m1ss1ontomars2k4 (1302833) | about 8 months ago | (#44494529)

People on Verizon and T-Mobile got the same message. But sure, just blame AT&T for it anyway.

Re:This is AT&T's fault how? (4, Funny)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 8 months ago | (#44494575)

Well, you have to admit most of the damage was done by AT&AT.

The AT&ST could be beaten even by tiny bears with prehistoric technology.

Re:This is AT&T's fault how? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about 8 months ago | (#44494643)

..did the messages arrive to them late too?

it sounds to me they just sent the sms's over as regular(marked with special bit that makes them appear instantly on supported handsets, forgot what was the name for that bit in the spec).

Re:This is AT&T's fault how? (1)

bickerdyke (670000) | about 8 months ago | (#44494791)

Cell Broadcast

Re:This is AT&T's fault how? (3, Interesting)

zyzko (6739) | about 8 months ago | (#44495063)

Cell broadcast is the delivery method (although parent suspected that it was *not* used but they used regular SMS instead, for an example on my Android device (JB) the default is to disable cell broadcast, disabling incoming "normal" SMS is much harder), flash SMS is the name for the "instantly appearing" message.

poor implementation has little to do with AT&T (5, Insightful)

Dahamma (304068) | about 8 months ago | (#44494533)

All services implemented the same feature and sent the EXACT same nearly useless message (which was written by a CA agency and approved by FEMA before being sent out).

Makes no sense to single out "AT&T's implementation"... it's mostly the cell phone manufacturer's implementation, and the govt's decision to send it out to the entire state in the middle of the night...

Seriously? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44494537)

Are people going to write articles and bitch every time an AMBER alert goes out now? The message gives you the area, a pretty good description of the car, and the license plate number. What more do you need?

I swear, these idiots are taking "first world problems" to a whole new level.

Re:Seriously? Yes! (4, Interesting)

dltaylor (7510) | about 8 months ago | (#44494577)

There WAS NO USEFUL geographic info'.

I got the same message as the submission on Virgin (Sprint). Where the hell is "Boulevard, CA"? California is a big state; more than a day's drive NS for most people.

If I'm driving, the alert is on the big orange-text signs every couple of miles, and I'm NOT supposed to be taking text messages while driving.

If I'm home, in bed (or, in my case, watching a movie), how much good does it do to wake/text me?

As to "what more do I (you) need?": tell me if it's a custody dispute or a "stranger" kidnapping. In the former case, I don't care, while in the latter, I do. The custodial parent isn't always the more fit, they might just have better lawyers, 'specially abusive, wealthy fathers/husbands.

Re:Seriously? Yes! (5, Funny)

venicebeach (702856) | about 8 months ago | (#44494813)

You're right, the Amber Alert would be much more useful if they provided the exact location of the vehicle.

Re:Seriously? Yes! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44494855)

Because women are never abusive [imgur.com].

Re:Seriously? Yes! (1)

dltaylor (7510) | about 8 months ago | (#44495113)

Sure, but they usually can't afford the better lawyer, although there is some courtroom bias in their favor.

Look at the overall numbers, and there are more abusive fathers (and boyfriends of mothers) than mothers.

Re:Seriously? Yes! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44494945)

Living in SoCal, I can attest to the following statement:

Locals put bumper stickers on their cars which read "WHERE IN THE HELL IS BOULEVARD?"

which is documented here [wikipedia.org]

Re:Seriously? Yes! (1)

wgoodman (1109297) | about 8 months ago | (#44495009)

I got the message six times. I was in a bar and had already seen the keno machines go nuts displaying it. Unless the car drove through the room, there wasn't a damned thing I could do to catch someone a few hundred miles away. End result is that I disabled Amber alerts on my phone.

Re:Seriously? (2)

EzInKy (115248) | about 8 months ago | (#44494635)

You don't think a uselesss AMBER alert should be bitched about? Even the people who take these things seriously are going to lose interest when they overly broad.

Re:Seriously? (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 8 months ago | (#44494723)

*turns over*

Wake me when the alert goes black.
Black?
Yeah, when the power's out so we don't get any colorful alerts anymore.

Re:Seriously? (2)

mwvdlee (775178) | about 8 months ago | (#44494807)

We have a similar system in the Netherlands.
I subscribed to it very early on but unsubscribed after very few relevant messages and more often not getting messages that would have been relevant to my location.
Atleast the messages I got were understandable.

Re:Seriously? (4, Insightful)

TheGeneration (228855) | about 8 months ago | (#44494731)

The message was completely irrelevant for those of us 600+ miles away. I don't even own a car, I live in an urban area. I literally have NO idea what a Nissan Versa looks like. Literally NONE. I NEVER look at license plates on vehicles while I'm walking. NEVER.

These messages have ZERO relevance. Send me a pic of the kids or the kidnapper. I don't give a shit about the fucking make/model of a car that is 600 miles away (the distance from Washington DC to Florida btw).

I can only imagine what people in the far Northern side of the state in Shasta or Humboldt thought of it all. 900 miles away something happened and they are also getting this message.

Really? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44494541)

I live in Illinois and didn't watch the news tonight so I wasn't aware of the Amber alert in California. However, from the message you posted, here is what I got:

  AMBER ALERT
  Location: Boulevard, California
  California License Plate: 6WCU986
  Car Make: Nissan
  Car Model: Versa
  Car Color: Blue
  Other Attributes: 4 door, not 2 door.

Re:Really? (5, Informative)

Dahamma (304068) | about 8 months ago | (#44494605)

Now go look up "Boulevard, CA" on a map and explain why 20+ million people in CA who have never heard of it or live within 300 miles of it should be woken up in the middle of the night about it.

You really can't figure that out? (2)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 8 months ago | (#44494623)

Just how long do you think it takes to drive 300 miles in a CAR which can travel at over 60MPH? Why would someone who kidnapped a child stay in the same area anyway? 300 miles is peanuts for that kind of alert, it should really be more like the possible distance travelled in a generous window since the disappearance was reported, not just five hours...

The whole point of the thing is to alert people in a huge radius to be on the lookout for the car. The alert had just the information needed - if you saw that car you could just call 911.

Re:You really can't figure that out? (4, Insightful)

Dahamma (304068) | about 8 months ago | (#44494725)

Did you get the message on your phone? I did. It was just a plain bad experience for most people. Scared the crap out of me, it vibrated and made a crazy loud noise I'd never heard before even though my phone was in my pocket and supposedly on mute. The first thing I did was disable all future amber alerts (which was the only option in the iPhone's settings), as apparently did millions of other people who were woken up or otherwise freaked out by the way it was delivered. One of the main things they needed to avoid with this "opt out" system was the "car alarm syndrome", and they completely failed that.

Re:You really can't figure that out? (-1)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 8 months ago | (#44494895)

Did you get the message on your phone? I did. It was just a plain bad experience for most people. Scared the crap out of me, it vibrated and made a crazy loud noise I'd never heard before even though my phone was in my pocket and supposedly on mute.

No, but I've gotten similar severe weather alerts. It's not supposed to be buckets of fun, it's supposed to alert a whole lot of people to look out for a car with a kidnapped child.

The first thing I did was disable all future amber alerts

Another option is to use the DND (do not disturb) feature which I believe overrides the national alerts and prevents a 2am wakeup call when you can't help.

Disabling an important warning system that could save children seems kind of... selfish.

Re:You really can't figure that out? (4, Insightful)

N1AK (864906) | about 8 months ago | (#44494943)

Disabling an important warning system that could save children seems kind of... selfish.

Only to someone who jumps to quick, incorrect, conclusions. There are thousands of things everyone could do everyday that could could save or improve others lives. We don't do the vast majority of them because the chance they will help and the time required stops it being viable. The chances of a car happening to travel 300 miles to just where I am, for me to be in a position where I see it, remember (5+ hours after the event) and actually recognise it are tiny. There would be literally dozens of things happening near by that my time would be better spent, still wasted in most cases, doing to help others instead.

If someone is going to broadcast messages to my phone that they want me to read, let alone treat as a priority, then I need to think they are. If I don't I'm going to avoid seeing as many of them as possible.

Re:You really can't figure that out? (-1, Flamebait)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 8 months ago | (#44494995)

On the other hand, some of us have decided not to live our lives as totally selfish assholes.

It does no good whatsoever to send out the alerts unless you push them out to a meaningful radius. Yes the chance that YOU may see something is slim, but the chance SOMEONE will see something goes up dramatically with a wide enough search radius. It would literally do zero good whatsoever to send the alert to a 10 mile radius because in pretty much every case of child kidnapping ever the person is far away from that zone.

Happily you can simply turn off the alert on your phone and remove any random chance you might save someones life, so can can avoid a slightly annoying buzzing that lasts for a few seconds.

Re:You really can't figure that out? (5, Insightful)

EvanED (569694) | about 8 months ago | (#44495021)

Happily you can simply turn off the alert on your phone and remove any random chance you might save someones life, so can can avoid a slightly annoying buzzing that lasts for a few seconds.

I feel that both positions are overstating things. Saying "a slightly annoying buzzing that lasts for a few seconds" is a dramatic understatement from what people saying it sounds like. (I can't find a sample of what it sounds like.) Being woken up is more than a "slight" annoyance, and there are plenty of situations where being suddenly startled by an unfamiliar loud noise can cause far more damage than "a slight annoyance."

Those probably make sense for a tornado warning or something like that, but not an AMBER alert. Virtually no one is going to do anything other than roll over and go back to sleep. It sounds like phone manufacturers went too far towards making it obnoxious for that case -- it seems quite unlikely that there would be many cases where a massive alert would garner a response that wouldn't be achieved through a simple text message alert for example.

Re:You really can't figure that out? (5, Interesting)

wgoodman (1109297) | about 8 months ago | (#44495033)

I got the alert 6 times. By the time I got it the first time, I'd already seen the alert elsewhere. Every single time it went off, I was still not in a position to see *that* car much less any car. Had I received it once, cool, no issues whatsoever. When it blows up my phone every 5 minutes, I'm going to disable it. I think giving it 30 min of being obnoxious was plenty generous and I don't much care if you think that makes me a terrible person.

Re: You really can't figure that out? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44495035)

As someone who experienced the Tohoku earthquake and the many aftershocks, and thus see the alert system as a matter of personal security I would say; fuck off.

Getting those messages IS VERY FUCKING UNPLEASANT YOU IMBICILE. If it's not something important, and by important I mean something that can kill a lot of people (and a kidnapped kid does not even come close), then use the normal channels.

Re:You really can't figure that out? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44495039)

On the other hand, some of us have decided not to live our lives as totally selfish assholes.

And of course you donate your money and/or several hours of your week to the Boys and Girls Club? Or actively advocate for abused women and children? Anything?

The GP is right, you seem to jump to conclusions with no basis. So I will as well and assume you are someone who thinks typing away on /. late at night about something they really don't give a shit the rest of the time somehow makes you a child savior...

It would literally do zero good whatsoever to send the alert to a 10 mile radius because in pretty much every case of child kidnapping ever the person is far away from that zone.

Citation? Oh, you can't, because you don't have one. Because the FACT (look it up) is that in 75% of the child abduction/murder cases (for which the AMBER alert was created... not chasing down a delinquent dad...) the child is killed less than 3 hours after the abduction. And most AMBER alerts are issued WAY after that (this one was almost a day later!)

Re:You really can't figure that out? (3, Interesting)

Dahamma (304068) | about 8 months ago | (#44494959)

Another option is to use the DND (do not disturb) feature which I believe overrides the national alerts and prevents a 2am wakeup call when you can't help.

My phone was on DND. Didn't help. Still sounded like my house was on fire.

Disabling an important warning system that could save children seems kind of... selfish.

Oh, come on, based on your UID I would have thought you'd be better than that tired line... BUT THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!

If you look into it at *all*, AMBER alerts have been even less useful [psmag.com], with more false positives, than TSA airport screening. "Crime control theater", indeed.

The issue - as usual - isn't that the problem - strangers kidnapping and murdering children - isn't horrible, it's that it's in fact extremely rare and the "solution" spends an absurd amount of time, money, and attention on it instead of the other 99.9% of the actual crimes against children. And the implementation was so bad it managed to piss off people instead of encourage them to help.

Re:You really can't figure that out? (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 8 months ago | (#44495029)

My phone was on DND. Didn't help. Still sounded like my house was on fire.

That seems like a really bad idea, DND is there for a reason and pretty much for sure indicates you are not in a position to do anything (on the other hand, it should not block out the weather alerts I guess). If the alert overrides DND I can see a ton of people turning it off.

If you look into it at *all*, AMBER alerts have been even less useful

I would submit they have been less useful because they were not in the past going to individuals on such a wide scale - it's easy to miss a billboard and by the time you are past to forget what it said. To me it seems pretty obvious alerts would be noticed by a lot more people going to individual cell phones and actually make it quite likely someone would see and report the car if the search radius is large enough. Also it may well have an impact of forcing the kidnapper to release the child once they realize many people will be looking for them... "security theater" is accidentally an excellent term because sometimes it has a very real psychological effect on a criminal beyond the actual effect, but the impact and benefits are not zero.

Normally I am not a "think of the children" kind of person, no. But in this one case the threshold of annoyance is so low and the potential/upside to helping so great that I can see it makes a lot of sense to have a system like this in place.

it's that it's in fact extremely rare

Which is why I find an alert acceptable because it will not happen often. If it were not rare an alert of this kind would not be acceptable.

the "solution" spends an absurd amount of time, money, and attention

Once the system is in place there is hardly any money involved in sending out an alert. The attention is minimal and the system can be used in other very obviously useful ways like very localized flooding alerts (which I've gotten).

And the implementation was so bad it managed to piss off people instead of encourage them to help.

That's the only part that needs some fixing, but I would warrant even a lot of pissed off people were still looking for that car.

Re:You really can't figure that out? (3, Insightful)

Dahamma (304068) | about 8 months ago | (#44495097)

Once the system is in place there is hardly any money involved in sending out an alert. The attention is minimal

That's totally untrue. I'm not just talking about the phone part, I'm questioning the whole system - remember AMBER alerts are not just about phone messages, but billboards, radio and TV alerts, police response, FEMA review, tons of false positive reports, etc. I read an article where authorities complained that an AMBER alert hoax cost taxpayers large amounts of money all told ($50-$100k+). I assume the hoaxes cost the same as the "real" ones, so it's clearly impossible that there is hardly any money involved.

It's called opportunity cost. These alerts aren't free and resources are limited. The argument that "if it saves one child it will be worth any cost" is unfortunately not a good one when there are so many thousands that could be helped in other, much more common circumstances if the limited resources were used more wisely.

Re:You really can't figure that out? (2)

Opportunist (166417) | about 8 months ago | (#44494739)

Rewind and first of all explain to me why some random child being kidnapped justifies an alert on a national emergency system.

Re:You really can't figure that out? (2, Informative)

hawguy (1600213) | about 8 months ago | (#44494785)

Rewind and first of all explain to me why some random child being kidnapped justifies an alert on a national emergency system.

It wasn't a national alert, it was a regional alert in California. An alert that the system was specifically designed for, that's why your phone will let your block Amber alerts separately from the other alerts if you want to.

If you don't want child abduction alerts, then turn off amber alerts in your phone.

Re:Really? (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about 8 months ago | (#44494627)

Now go look up "Boulevard, CA" on a map and explain why 20+ million people in CA who have never heard of it or live within 300 miles of it should be woken up in the middle of the night about it.

Because one possible destination was Canada, so the suspect would have been driving through all of California? At least he would have until he saw the alert on his phone.

It wasn't the middle of the night, I got my message at 10:51 - a time when many people were still awake.

Re:Really? (4, Insightful)

Dahamma (304068) | about 8 months ago | (#44494817)

It wasn't the middle of the night, I got my message at 10:51 - a time when many people were still awake.

And they resent it at 2:30am just in case it didn't piss off EVERYONE at 10:51.

I'm not arguing the whole concept is bad, just the implementation. What the hell is wrong with a text message? Ok, if it's delayed by a few minutes big deal, the 99.9% of the people who are not on the road until the next morning will get it anyway (and technically it's actually *illegal* in CA - and possibly dangerous - for the 0.1% who are on the road - to check it while driving!) And in fact, they will possibly be MORE likely to get it since the first thing I did on my phone going bats hit crazy was unlock it, which cancelled the message window... I never even got to see what it actually said until I read a news article the next day. If it was just a text message I would have seen it on my phone when I woke up, read it and probably digested the contents a lot better (and not immediately opted out of it like many also did).

Re:Really? (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about 8 months ago | (#44494829)

It wasn't the middle of the night, I got my message at 10:51 - a time when many people were still awake.

And they resent it at 2:30am just in case it didn't piss off EVERYONE at 10:51.

That's apparently your carrier's problem since my Verizon and T-Mobile phones only received one message.

I'm not arguing the whole concept is bad, just the implementation. What the hell is wrong with a text message?

Because the carrier networks are not designed to send a geographically targeted SMS message, not to send millions of simultaneous SMS messages.

Ok, if it's delayed by a few minutes big deal, the 99.9% of the people who are not on the road until the next morning will get it anyway (and technically it's actually *illegal* in CA - and possibly dangerous - for the 0.1% who are on the road - to check it while driving!) And in fact, they will possibly be MORE likely to get it since the first thing I did on my phone going bats hit crazy was unlock it, which cancelled the message window... I never even got to see what it actually said until I read a news article the next day. If it was just a text message I would have seen it on my phone when I woke up, read it and probably digested the contents a lot better (and not immediately opted out of it like many also did).

My phone stores emergency alert messages, I assume that all (most?) do. So if you really cared about the contents of the message you could have read it the next day.

Re:Really? (1)

Dahamma (304068) | about 8 months ago | (#44494871)

Because the carrier networks are not designed to send a geographically targeted SMS message, not to send millions of simultaneous SMS messages.

That's absurd. Did you read that somewhere or just make it up? Either way, just stop and THINK about how they already send millions of simultaneous SMS messages! AT&T sent 630 BILLON text messages in 2011 to ~90M total customers in the US. That's almost 2 billion a day. I think they can handle another few million to their CA customers for an AMBER alert.

Re:Really? (1)

N1AK (864906) | about 8 months ago | (#44494957)

It could only be seen as absurd if you completely failed to understand what he is saying. There's no point sending an SMS to a phone belonging to a guy in california if he's on holiday in France; however a guy from New York who is in California may want to know that there was a disaster warning for California. SMS are sent to phones based on their number. This system sends messages to phones in the vicinity. The difference is pretty fucking obvious ;)

Re:Really? (2, Insightful)

Dahamma (304068) | about 8 months ago | (#44495005)

Seriously, do you not understand that the *carrier* can do whatever they want here? They know where all of their customer's cells are all the time, they could implement this with SMS messages just as easily as the system they did end up implementing. Or a system that DIDN'T USE SMS but had the same effect (ever heard of iMessage?) I don't know, seems pretty fucking obvious to me.

But in the end, as I already said, I'm not against the idea, just the implementation. Who the hell cares which protocol is used to get the message to your phone, the key point is they needed to present it in a way that didn't just piss off people so the turned off the feature, and it was a big failure in that regard.

Re:Really? (2)

hawguy (1600213) | about 8 months ago | (#44495079)

Seriously, do you not understand that the *carrier* can do whatever they want here? They know where all of their customer's cells are all the time, they could implement this with SMS messages just as easily as the system they did end up implementing.

The carriers cannot deliver real-time geographically targeted messages with SMS. I've been told that by more than one carrier engineer when asked if our venue's dedicated cell tower could be used to send SMS messages to customers in the event of an emergency. He said many people ask for it, but it's not remotely possible and that if we had public safety messages to send, we'd have to work with FEMA and local public safety agencies to send an WEA alert. The towers can't autonomously send SMS messages to all connected phones, and due to roaming, the carrier itself may not have immediate access to the cell phone number of all phones associated with a tower.

Or a system that DIDN'T USE SMS but had the same effect (ever heard of iMessage?)

Isn't that what they did? Implemented a system that doesn't use SMS, but has the same effect -- but unlike iMessage, it allows for geographically targeted messages and works with any phone, not just smart phones.

I don't know, seems pretty fucking obvious to me.

But in the end, as I already said, I'm not against the idea, just the implementation. Who the hell cares which protocol is used to get the message to your phone, the key point is they needed to present it in a way that didn't just piss off people so the turned off the feature, and it was a big failure in that regard.

So in what way would you implement a system that needs to communicate time sensitive information to consumers without using a loud alert tone to get their attention? It's hard to argue that an Amber alert is not time sensitive -- having it flash on your screen only to be discovered in the morning may make the data too stale to use. You can certainly argue that many people don't care about Amber alerts, but those people can just disable the alerts.

Re: Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44494955)

Because when it comes to a criminal, nobody knows where te guy may be headed. Think of it this way, if you were in his shoes, and you found out via the same alert the cops were looking for you to be heading south, wouldn't you turn direction? They said Texas OR CANADA. By now he could already be up there. I got the alert and I live in SoCal, when I got it he could of been up 500+ or many more miles by then. He could be in my area, he could be anywhere. Who the hell knows. In my opinion, the STATEWIDE broadcast of this alert was a smart idea, criminals are unpredictable. You NEVER know if by some miraculous chance the guy decided to head north and someone spotted him in northern Cali. You never know if the guy decided to head south and someone at the very end of the Cali border may spot him.

Re: Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44495013)

Or now that they broadcast it to every cell phone in CA instead of opt-in or putting it on road signs, etc, he may have just seen the message and ditched his car.

Sprint sent out the same message (5, Informative)

OffTheWallSoccer (1699154) | about 8 months ago | (#44494543)

I received the message via Sprint, despite being 400 miles from the affected area. I guess this is one way to make sure people start ignoring these messages.

Be vigilant citizen! (1)

EzInKy (115248) | about 8 months ago | (#44494561)

When your government calls on you to protect your freedoms, you must give up your freedoms to answer its call! How else are the free to remain free?

Re:Be vigilant citizen! (3, Informative)

AHuxley (892839) | about 8 months ago | (#44494891)

Wait for the alerts when http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/aug/06/nsa-director-cyber-terrorism-snowden [theguardian.com] and the US gov has to "grab" and "bring" in all the:
..."nihilists, anarchists, activists, ..., twentysomethings who haven't talked to the opposite sex in five or six years".
"Police Alert. Wanted: Hacker in city. Has committed cyberterrorism and crimes against the State. Name: ..... Occupation: Activist. Last seen . . ."
"... watch for a man running ... watch for the running man . . . watch for a man alone, on foot . . . watch..."
(welcome to Fahrenheit 451)

Simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44494551)

Alerts don't sell phones or services, so it's probably funded, staffed, and supported like anything else that doesn't contribute to profits: poorly.

Re:Simple (1)

Jerry Smith (806480) | about 8 months ago | (#44494571)

Alerts don't sell phones or services, so it's probably funded, staffed, and supported like anything else that doesn't contribute to profits: poorly.

Expect it to either be pwned after a few times, or "This important message is brought to you by General Motors"

Re:Simple (4, Interesting)

hawguy (1600213) | about 8 months ago | (#44494617)

Alerts don't sell phones or services, so it's probably funded, staffed, and supported like anything else that doesn't contribute to profits: poorly.

Expect it to either be pwned after a few times, or "This important message is brought to you by General Motors"

I do wonder how long it will be until someone figures out how to hack the system and uses it to send out repeated "Presidential Alerts" in the middle of the night -- those alerts can't be blocked by any phone settings. Worse if the alert says "Incoming nuclear missiles. Evacuate your town immediately. Don't trust radio or TV."

Re:Simple (1)

EvanED (569694) | about 8 months ago | (#44494913)

Worse if the alert says "Incoming nuclear missiles. Evacuate your town immediately. Don't trust radio or TV."

"Be careful to protect your precious bodily fluids."

I do wonder how long it will be until someone figures out how to hack the system and uses it to send out repeated "Presidential Alerts" in the middle of the night -- those alerts can't be blocked by any phone settings.

I bet they can be blocked by turning the phone off. Kinda sucks if you use it for an alarm (I do this) and doesn't address your fundamental point, but it'd be a stopgap solution.

Re:Simple (2)

wgoodman (1109297) | about 8 months ago | (#44495051)

Someone already hacked the Emergency network in Montana last year to make it report that there were zombies.

Do not want (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44494579)

See subject.

Terrible experience so far (5, Interesting)

thisisauniqueid (825395) | about 8 months ago | (#44494585)

I got the same alert four times in the last 24 hours, several hours apart. And I was just in a night class with 100 other people, and four separate times during the class somebody's phone (including mine, once) started blaring the alert at max volume. My phone was on vibrate. One person couldn't figure out how to silence their phone, and ended up running out of the room with phone still blaring. After 3 seconds, if you don't silence it, the phone starts reading the alert text at maximum volume too (using TTS). I have an HTC One, which has incredibly loud speakers, so this is not cool. Of course, Amber Alerts are now disabled on my phone, which reminds me of the stupidity of Windows User Account Control popups -- people click on them just to get them to go away, so they lose their value. Incidentally, Presidential Alerts may not be disabled on Android. I just hope the US President never has a good reason to ring every phone in the nation at full volume.

Don't blame AT&T for terse message (5, Informative)

hawguy (1600213) | about 8 months ago | (#44494593)

Don't blame (only) AT&T for the terse message. The WEA system limits messages to 90 characters:

http://www.fema.gov/wireless-emergency-alerts [fema.gov]

WEA will look like a text message. The WEA message will show the type and time of the alert, any action you should take, and the agency issuing the alert. The message will be no more than 90 characters.

I can't believe the government asked for such an arbitrary and small limit on message size, so I'm assuming that the carriers said that's all they could provide, probably because a 90 character message fit into some control message they were already sending to phones.

Really? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44494611)

Who cares hwo detailed or non detailed the message is. They're just trying to get the point out. Stop being lazy & search it up. Takes no more than 1 minute. Goodness. There's an amber alert & all people can do is complain how little detailed the message is.

600 miles. (1)

TheGeneration (228855) | about 8 months ago | (#44494625)

I live in San Francisco, which is 600 miles from San Diego where this alert originated from. For you east coasters that is the equivalent of an Amber Alert in Florida being sent to everybody all the way to Washington DC.

I quickly researched how to turn off Amber Alerts on my phone, I won't be bothered by them ever again. (On an iphone Settings > Notifications, scroll to very bottom where you find Government Alerts, turn off Amber Alerts, leave on Emergency Alerts since that might actually carry important info.) And that of course is the real issue, by sending such an irrelevant and incredible annoying/distracting message they are inviting large swaths of the population to turn them off. Rules should be established around relevancy (ie, does somebody 600+ miles away need to be a recipient?) in order to keep the system useful.

Re:600 miles. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44494927)

I live in San Francisco, which is 600 miles from San Diego where this alert originated from. For you east coasters that is the equivalent of an Amber Alert in Florida being sent to everybody all the way to Washington DC.

Without commenting on the ridiculousness of the distance, you grossly overstate your case by about 100 miles in both directions. San Francisco to San Diego is barely over 500 miles; Boulevard is a bit further, but it's still only 557. Meanwhile Jacksonville, FL (pretty far northern FL) to Washington is a hair over 700 miles. "Significantly further than Washington, DC to Boston" would have been a much better comparison.

I don't see much of a problem (5, Informative)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 8 months ago | (#44494639)

The radius needs to be quite wide, because a person can travel a great distance in a car in a short period of time. 800 miles would not be unreasonable depending on when the missing child was reported.

Abducted children are often taken quite far away.

The fact it was an Amber alert tells you a child is involved, and the alert had all other information needed to report something, basically the plates and make/model of the car.

I guess the different times of reception are an issue but something is better than nothing, and it takes time to work through a list of many cell phone numbers to send out an alert... obviously they do need to improve on the speed of that, and try to remove duplicates.

Re:I don't see much of a problem (2)

N1AK (864906) | about 8 months ago | (#44494967)

Then you have a problem because the message was state wide not distance based. If you really think sending a text message to over a third of the country if someone goes missing in Pittsburgh (everyone in states within 800 miles) is going to do anything but lead to pissing people off and millions turning the alerts off then go for it.

anoying and useless... (4, Insightful)

greywire (78262) | about 8 months ago | (#44494653)

First, I was watching cable tv when the show was interrupted by the EBS (with a computer synthesized voice, no less, yet it still sounded like a bad CB radio). My cable box inexplicably returned to some random channel that I wasnt watching. Thanks Time Warner and Motorola, your cable box SUCKS in yet another aspect. Then, hours later (at like 10pm or so), all three t-mobile cell phones got the alert. We got the alert yet again the next day. For something that occurred at around 5PM? The suspect could have been out of state or in mexico by then. At the time I was thinking, what makes this kid so special, this sort of thing probably happens daily.. I didn't know the details on the story until the next day. This might be useful if it arrived within, say, an hour or less of the incident and was sent to phones geographically within the area the suspect could have traveled in that amount of time (80 miles?).

Not just AT&T (1)

NeveRBorN (86123) | about 8 months ago | (#44494669)

I can say for sure that it's not just AT&T. A couple of weeks ago, I was receiving alerts every 15 minutes for floods that were happening 400 miles away on the east coast. Add to the this the fact that I couldn't stop the annoying screeching my phone was making without unlocking my phone and confirming the message and you had one hell of a case of distracted driving and nearly two accidents. I'd much rather text while driving 100% of the time. It isn't 1/10th as distracting, and less than 1/100th as infuriating. Perhaps those who thought these messages were a good idea need to rethink their sanity.

Re:Not just AT&T (-1, Troll)

hawguy (1600213) | about 8 months ago | (#44494699)

I can say for sure that it's not just AT&T. A couple of weeks ago, I was receiving alerts every 15 minutes for floods that were happening 400 miles away on the east coast. Add to the this the fact that I couldn't stop the annoying screeching my phone was making without unlocking my phone and confirming the message and you had one hell of a case of distracted driving and nearly two accidents. I'd much rather text while driving 100% of the time. It isn't 1/10th as distracting, and less than 1/100th as infuriating. Perhaps those who thought these messages were a good idea need to rethink their sanity.

If you find a noisy phone to be too distracting to drive and you don't want the messages anyway, why not just disable them?

Do you nearly get into accidents when a blaring fire truck goes by or is it only a loud cell phone that distracts you to the point where you nearly crash?

Re:Not just AT&T (4, Insightful)

EvanED (569694) | about 8 months ago | (#44494961)

If you find a noisy phone to be too distracting to drive and you don't want the messages anyway, why not just disable them?

How many people knew that it would even have been an option? If it weren't for this and the previous NYC story, I wouldn't have known about it.

(My phone doesn't support it I'm pretty sure.)

Do you nearly get into accidents when a blaring fire truck goes by or is it only a loud cell phone that distracts you to the point where you nearly crash?

If a firetruck suddenly appeared out of thin air, it may well do so.

It's not just the loudness it sounds like (having never heard such an alert) but the suddenness and unfamiliarity.

Central Planning (1)

mfwitten (1906728) | about 8 months ago | (#44494683)

It does NOT work.

Things are built well when people want them, let alone need them.

Re:Central Planning (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 8 months ago | (#44494819)

Yes and no. There are good reasons for enforced standards, but they have to be enforced well or they will be ignored.

I'm in the security business. And I guess I'm preaching the choir when I say that IT security is sub par in most companies. For the same reason this emergency broadcasting system is FUBAR: Costs money, doesn't make money. Same with security. Costs money, nobody wants to pay for it.

So if there is NO regulation, no minimum standard requirements, no fines for negligence, companies will simply ignore it altogether beyond their own, personal gains. And while there is actually at least some self interest in ITSEC (after all, few companies would enjoy the idea of having their corporate data being published), there is exactly ZERO interest of AT&T and others to invest a single penny in such an emergency broadcasting system. There is absolutely NO gain for them.

Of course they will implement it at the lowest cost possible. And yes, that may include risking a fine if said fine is low enough. Fines are just a part of risk management and the equation of "chance incident * cost of incident / cost of implementation". They just increase the cost of an incident. Nothing more. Detach yourself from the idea that companies give a shit anymore about their goodwill, they learned that the population has the long term memory of a goldfish and will forget whatever crimes they commit faster than they forget their wedding day.

So unless the fines are steep enough for a shoddy implementation of that emergency system, there will be no improvements. As long as it is more expensive to build a good system than to simply pay a token sum whenever something goes wrong, companies will opt for the latter.

NSA and FCC. No I am not paranoid (1)

rlh100 (695725) | about 8 months ago | (#44494691)

Now not only does the NSA keep track of most of the meta data on our emails and phone calls, now the FCC has a way to send a message to everyone who has a phone. What's next? . . .

And I like the government.

Send your thoughts to the FCC and the President

Now I know how to turn it off... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44494717)

The only thing this was successful at was prompting me to figure out how to turn off the Amber alert notifications on my phone. I have received it 4 times now on two devices over a 16 hour period, the message appears the same every time.

So the Common Good got screwed... (1)

macraig (621737) | about 8 months ago | (#44494753)

... by the ineptitude, apathy, and selfishness of a corporate contractor? News at 10:54pm!

I disabled mine, I'm sure many others did too. (3, Interesting)

tji (74570) | about 8 months ago | (#44494763)

My phone made an awful, loud, startling noise. I had never heard it before, and it scared the crap out of me. It sounded like a fire alarm. Once I realized it was my phone, my first thought was some sort of disaster requiring evacuation. Once I saw the message, it was only confusing. No real information, no linkage to details.

A google search turned up more about the Amber alert, which I discovered was several hours away from me in Southern California. I'm in Northern California. The details on the web mentioned that they were suspected of escaping to Texas. So, it was absolutely irrelevant to me. I immediately looked into how to disable it, and had it disabled in a couple minutes. 75% of the others I talked to today also disabled there Amber alerts.

1. The alarm should be more moderate, or at least adjustable. It was very startling. If I had been driving when it went off, I think the effect would have been dangerous. I would have left it on if I could disable the audio alarm and just get the message.

2. It needs more information, or at least a simlpe click-through to details, location radius / distance from me, pictures of the people involved, etc.

Re:I disabled mine, I'm sure many others did too. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44495119)

I'm in southern California and never even got a message... strange.

Are you KIDDING? (No pun intended... ok, a little) (3, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | about 8 months ago | (#44494777)

They used the national emergency service to inform the population about some child being kidnapped. Erh... Ok, now please tell me why I should care. Yes, yes, it's probably heart breaking for the parents, and yes, yes, if it was my child I'd certainly love to use it for that but the problem is: 99.something % of the population do not give half a fuck, let alone keep an eye out for that car. "Why the fuck should I care about some random brat I don't know about?" will probably be the reaction of nearly ALL the people who got that message.

I see a "cry wolf" scenario waiting to happen. Some day in the future, something actually important, something that actually is meaningful to most of the population, will happen and people will simply click it away after reading "AMBER AL...", thinking "fuck, that kidnapping fad's getting worse than spam texts".

Re:Are you KIDDING? (No pun intended... ok, a litt (2)

hawguy (1600213) | about 8 months ago | (#44494809)

They used the national emergency service to inform the population about some child being kidnapped. Erh... Ok, now please tell me why I should care. Yes, yes, it's probably heart breaking for the parents, and yes, yes, if it was my child I'd certainly love to use it for that but the problem is: 99.something % of the population do not give half a fuck, let alone keep an eye out for that car. "Why the fuck should I care about some random brat I don't know about?" will probably be the reaction of nearly ALL the people who got that message.

I see a "cry wolf" scenario waiting to happen. Some day in the future, something actually important, something that actually is meaningful to most of the population, will happen and people will simply click it away after reading "AMBER AL...", thinking "fuck, that kidnapping fad's getting worse than spam texts".

If you don't care about Amber alerts, you can disable them in your phone while still receiving the other emergency alerts.

If you get a message that starts "AMBER AL...", then you can safely ignore it if you don't care about child abductions since Amber alerts are specifically for child abductions.

Re:Are you KIDDING? (No pun intended... ok, a litt (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 8 months ago | (#44494825)

Oh. Very convenient. Though it shoudl be opt-in.

Re:Are you KIDDING? (No pun intended... ok, a litt (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 8 months ago | (#44494835)

Oh. Very convenient. Though it shoudl be opt-in.

The whole point of opt-out systems is that they're used when few people would choose to opt-in.

This one fails dismally because they've made it so incredibly annoying that almost everyone goes to the trouble of figuring out how to disable them.

Re:Are you KIDDING? (No pun intended... ok, a litt (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about 8 months ago | (#44494889)

Oh. Very convenient. Though it shoudl be opt-in.

The whole point of opt-out systems is that they're used when few people would choose to opt-in.

This one fails dismally because they've made it so incredibly annoying that almost everyone goes to the trouble of figuring out how to disable them.

You've just explained why it wasn't set up as an opt-in system -- few people would chose to opt-in. Since nearly everyone that's complaining about the message didn't realize that there was even an option to disable the alerts, non of those people would have opted in, so having them opt-out now is no worse. But most of the rest of the people that don't really care about the alerts (or don't know they can turn them off), will keep them enabled.

Re:Are you KIDDING? (No pun intended... ok, a litt (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44494865)

What is the point of having it be opt-in? No one would use it then. You can "opt-in" to listen to a police radio, too, but the whole point is to tell the general public.

But when I've seen them where I am, they are just posted on highway signs, which I think is less intrusive for some people, but still gets the word out to those out and about.

Re:Are you KIDDING? (No pun intended... ok, a litt (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 8 months ago | (#44494897)

If nobody would use it, what purpose does it serve? Unless I'm kinda mistaken here it's a service nobody wants. The population doesn't want it and the service providers sure as hell could do without it.

So who wants it?

Re:Are you KIDDING? (No pun intended... ok, a litt (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about 8 months ago | (#44494933)

If nobody would use it, what purpose does it serve? Unless I'm kinda mistaken here it's a service nobody wants. The population doesn't want it and the service providers sure as hell could do without it.

So who wants it?

Parents of abducted children?

Re:Are you KIDDING? (No pun intended... ok, a litt (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 8 months ago | (#44494969)

Hmm... quite a small target group, no wonder no funds are being made available to push it.

Re:Are you KIDDING? (No pun intended... ok, a litt (1)

venicebeach (702856) | about 8 months ago | (#44494905)

They used the national emergency service to inform the population about some child being kidnapped. Erh... Ok, now please tell me why I should care. Yes, yes, it's probably heart breaking for the parents, and yes, yes, if it was my child I'd certainly love to use it for that but the problem is: 99.something % of the population do not give half a fuck, let alone keep an eye out for that car. "Why the fuck should I care about some random brat I don't know about?" will probably be the reaction of nearly ALL the people who got that message.

I am skeptical that 99% of the population is as apathetic as you are, especially when it comes to the welfare of children. This is not a "think of the children" [wikipedia.org] situation where the welfare of children is used to leverage some other cause. This is a case where the welfare of a child is actually at stake. Of course we care. And really, no one is asking you to get out of bed and join a search party. The point is that the information is now in you head so that if you see a car matching the description you will be aware.

I see a "cry wolf" scenario waiting to happen. Some day in the future, something actually important, something that actually is meaningful to most of the population, will happen and people will simply click it away after reading "AMBER AL...", thinking "fuck, that kidnapping fad's getting worse than spam texts".

False alarms are definitely an issue with Amber alerts as often they are issued without meeting the criteria, usually when the child is abducted by a family member in a custody dispute and is not really in danger. But if you are saying that a real child abduction is not a real emergency, I hope I'm not alone in disagreeing with you.

Re:Are you KIDDING? (No pun intended... ok, a litt (1)

EvanED (569694) | about 8 months ago | (#44494965)

I am skeptical that 99% of the population is as apathetic as you are, especially when it comes to the welfare of children.

At 2:22am with regards to an event hundreds of miles away? I bet they are...

Re:Are you KIDDING? (No pun intended... ok, a litt (0)

venicebeach (702856) | about 8 months ago | (#44494971)

Also in this case, the "random brat" that you don't care about was abducted after her mother and brother were burned to death.

story [go.com]

Re:Are you KIDDING? (No pun intended... ok, a litt (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 8 months ago | (#44495047)

What does that change? I still cannot see the public interest.

If you said that he was an escaped child molester who kidnapped a random child on his or her way home from school, I can well see it. There is an inherent danger that he will do it again.

Motivation for a crime is a key element when assessing the threat an individual poses. Not the way the crime was committed. I'd be more wary of a hitman who cleanly killed his mark with a single headshot than of a husband who tortured his cheating wife to death by slicing her from toe to head with a filet knife. Yes, the latter is far more brutal and cruel, but the former is far more likely to repeat his crime.

Worse than useless - here's how to disable them. (3, Informative)

Sarusa (104047) | about 8 months ago | (#44494793)

On iOS: settings -> notifications -> Government Alerts down at the bottom. You can turn off just Amber alerts.

On Android: open the Android messaging /application/, then menu -> settings -> emergency alerts -> disable Amber alerts.

Re:Worse than useless - here's how to disable them (1)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | about 8 months ago | (#44494873)

On iOS: settings -> notifications -> Government Alerts down at the bottom. You can turn off just Amber alerts.

Thank you - I haven't had to deal with these phone alerts yet so I hadn't noticed this setting; but now I've disabled them preemptively.

I don't know about other areas of the US, but around here (Puget Sound region, Washington state) we've got all sorts of computer-controlled signage on our major freeways. For the past couple years these have included Amber Alert notices when those occur. There's no real benefit to having them also appear on my phone - if I'm not in my car, I'm not likely to notice random automobile makes and license plates.

Beyond the alert itself.. it's the timing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44494883)

I was in a day long meeting in the Bay Area today and peoples phones (only AT&T) were going off till 2pm. The alert itself could have had more info, but the real issue this post is pointing out is that AT&T could not deliver the alerts in a timely and reliable way.

AT&T (1)

buss_error (142273) | about 8 months ago | (#44494919)

AT&T - for all that it's the same name as the precursor of the inventor of the telephone system and many innovative systems, is sadly not even a pale ghost of it's former glory. What they are is group of clue avoiding MBAs cum lawyers running a reconstituted monopoly to maximize shareholder profits and piss off customers. They are worse than that barking dog that just won't SHUT UP, they are a drag on innovation, competition, and customer service. While they do a great job of "servicing" their customers, it's not in a way that is appreciated or desired by those same customers. Besides, they use crunchy peanut butter as lube. With no "reach around". (I know how disgusting a mental image that is. Sorry, but that's about what I feel about them.)

If I had the power, anyone at AT&T (Indeed, ANY telco) above lower management would be forever barred from working anywhere near telecommunications, internet, or anything more advanced than a grill for flipping burgers. Even that I would consider high risk; food poisoning, you know.

America: Highest Internet costs, Lowest Internet speeds. Go figure.

It basically worked... (1)

dtgibson (1801834) | about 8 months ago | (#44494935)

Sure the implementation could be better, like a followup link/swipe for more info, but a kid was missing. I knew if I saw a blue Versa with that license plate I could call the police and help that kid out.

I could have taken a second to google it if I wanted the full story, but the point of the notification was to make people look around altogether at once for a moment.

Why do so many people seem so upset about being woken up by an Amber alert? They've got to improve the notifications but I don't mind being bothered for a second every once in a while if it could do some good in a big way.

DISGUSTED WITH PEOPLES COMMENTS (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#44495055)

REALLY??? We are living in a heartless cruel world when people are complaining about the inconvenience of an Amber Alert disrupting their TV show when two children are missing after there Mother was discovered dead. I personally would hope that I as a Mother would be able to get officials to do this for me no matter the inconvenience to others (THESE ARE OUR CHILDREN) Wake up America we need to protect our kids. I am disgusted at some of the posts here, why does the "F " word need to be used?????

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