Senate wants emergency alerts to go out through Netflix, Spotify, etc.

An emergency alert goes out, trying to let you know about incoming bad news — a missile, a tsunami, or something else terrifying. Your phone starts shouting.. but it’s downstairs. A warning ticker pops on TVs, if you’re watching cable… but you’ve got your eyes glued to Netflix, or Hulu, or some other online streaming service.

Should these services, with their ever-increasing ownership of our screen time, be prepped to broadcast these warnings?

Senators in Hawaii and South Dakota think so, having just introduced a bill (the “Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement”, or READI, act) that would “explore” broadcasting alerts to “online streaming services, such as Netflix and Spotify” amongst other changes to the Emergency Alert System.

“Hawaii? Wasn’t that the state that had a very public false alarm with its emergency alert system?”

Yep! But it seems that in investigating what went wrong, the state found plenty of long-lived shortcomings in the existing, aging alert system.

Some of the other things the bill touches on:

  • Users on many phones can currently disable federal alerts; they want to get rid of that option
  • Building a better system for reporting false alarms and figuring out what happened
  • Updating the system to better prevent false alarms, and to better retract them when they happen

The idea of sending emergency alerts to Netflix etc seems a bit obvious at this point — hell, I was mulling over it right here on TechCrunch back in 2011, and it seemed a bit obvious even back then.

With that said, I still have the same hesitations I had at the time. After the recent false alarms and ensuing panic, it’s clear that any such system needs to be rock solid from a security standpoint — one missed bug or exploit, and half the country is freaking out about non-existent incoming missiles when all they wanted to do was watch Orange Is The New Black. If it can be done right, though, it seems like a reasonable idea.

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