back to article Pocket mobe butt dialing clogs up 911 emergency calls, says Google

Researchers with Google have found that accidental "butt dial" calls from mobile phones are creating a headache for emergency call centers. A study published this month by Google's 911 research team found that from 2012-2014, the number of accidental wireless calls to emergency operators has increased, as has the time spent …

  1. BobRocket

    Emergency calls not optional

    Unless my phone is powered down or the battery is dead I can't turn off emergency calls, even when the phone is locked.

    I didn't ask for this functionality, it has been imposed by 'someone thinking of the children' so instead of whinging that 911 (or whatever) is being clogged up with spurious calls just forward all these calls to the person responsible, policy will be changed forthwith.

    1. RichardB

      Re: Emergency calls not optional

      My toddler clocked some time back that daddies phone made cool beeping noises if she touched it here and here just so even when it was locked.

      Quite an irritating feature. Wonder how many lives it has saved?

    2. Graham Marsden

      @BobRocket - Re: Emergency calls not optional

      > it has been imposed by 'someone thinking of the children'

      ORLY? So, let's try a hypothetical scenario:

      * * * * *

      You are in an accident, someone happens along but they don't have a mobile phone or they have one on a network that has no coverage in the area you're in.

      Wait a minute! You've got a phone, but the keypad is locked and you're unconscious, so your erstwhile rescuer has no way of calling the emergency services.

      What a shame nobody thought of allowing emergency calls *even when* the phone is locked...

      * * * * *

      Now maybe there should be more safeguards on the emergency dialler, but I don't know how other phones work. On mine (Motorola Moto-G) you've got to swipe up to get the unlock screen, hit Emergency Call, then dial the number and press Call, which seems pretty secure against accidental dialling to me.

      1. JoshOvki

        Re: @BobRocket - Emergency calls not optional

        Emergency calls will go across any network. So if your phone has the ability to call the emergency services so will theirs.

        1. Graham Marsden

          @JoshOvki - Re: @BobRocket - Emergency calls not optional

          Fine, so maybe, as I suggested, the didn't have a phone. Or perhaps they're out of battery. Whatever. The point is that a phone should always be able to make emergency calls, no matter who holds it, but that's not what the OP wants.

        2. e^iπ+1=0

          Re: @BobRocket - Emergency calls not optional

          "Re: @BobRocket - Emergency calls not optional

          Emergency calls will go across any network. So if your phone has the ability to call the emergency services so will theirs."

          Unfortunately my phone doesn't support the frequencies that have coverage in the area where the incident is occurring.

      2. The Vociferous Time Waster

        Re: @BobRocket - Re: Emergency calls not optional

        If you have a phone on a different network then just use that as they all make emergency calls on whatever network is available and if you don't have a phone then you are probably too stupid to help. Also if they have an iPhone just figure out which finger unlocks it and if they don't have an iPhone just leave the poor soul to die as they would thank you for it.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "In addition, the researchers believe that creating a system to automate the callback process for those accidental dials will help save time and allow operators to deal with actual emergency calls."

    Rrrrring! ... Rrrrring! ... Click.. "Hello! I'm the CopBot and I'm ringing you up because we suspect one of your butt-cheeks may be in jeopardy. Are both of yours present and accounted for, Sir or Madam...?"

  3. x 7

    simple answer.....for every 911 buttdial, the callback should be automated - 20 sequential calls at 03:00 in the morning,, repeated over several days

    the prats would soon understand

  4. DougS Silver badge

    How is this possible?

    This can't be happening to people with touch screen smartphones, can it? Unless the pocket you keep it in has a hole in it (and are wearing no underwear in the case of a back pocket true "butt dial") you can't activate the screen without contact from the skin.

    Well, maybe other than that Lumia that worked with a gloved hand, it be sensitive enough that bumping into something with it in your pocket will act as a

    1. MotionCompensation

      Re: How is this possible?

      Double tap wakes up my phone, ready to dial emergency numbers. I live in a warm country. Carrying the phone on a pocket of my jeans, screen pointed towards me, can wake it up make it start dialing random numbers. The hot, humid climate and sweaty body probably helps.

      So far, it has never actually made a call. Of course, double tap can be disabled. My Nexus 5 power button died from overuse, so I prefer double tap. No moving parts.

    2. ckm5

      Re: How is this possible?

      My iPhone 6's screen is so sensitive that I can hover 1/2cm above it and often activate it. I can't even count the number of random dials this has caused. Funny enough, my old 4S never had this problem - still probably the best phone Apple ever made.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: How is this possible?

        You must be more conductive than me, or my 6S plus has a less sensitive screen. I can activate it with the barest of touches - maybe it is slightly before my fingertip actually contacts it is hard to tell. But 1/2 cm is 5mm which is more than half the thickness of the entire phone.

        Still, even with the 5mm activation, does it work through the material of your pants or the pockets?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The other component is the particular digits selected. Ease of recall, ease of use. With attendant fallout.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "The other component is the particular digits selected"

      In that respect 911 might be better than 999.

      1. x 7

        112 was introduced in an attempt to avoid butt dialing but it never took off.......supposedly an easy to remember hard to misdial international emergency number

        1. Anonymous Coward

          "112 was introduced in an attempt to avoid butt dialing but it never took off....."

          As it was invented in 1991, I think it pretty much pre-dates when most had mobiles, although it does have the knock on effect of stopping 999 by bashing the keypad, but it's no different to 911 in that sense.

          As for never took off.....It's the main number in most EU countries AND can be used in Israel, Norway, Russia, Turkey, and Switzerland.

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      The other component is the particular digits selected.

      Not for mobiles, they usually just have an "emergency call" button, one press, hence the problem. If yout butt really can dial 911 or 112 by itself you may have a career in showbusiness coming up.

      1. x 7

        "Not for mobiles, they usually just have an "emergency call" button, one press"

        the only phone I have ever seen with such a button was supplied by the police to a high-risk victim of domestic abuse. Outside of that - never

  6. Anonymous Coward

    OMG! Facebook is down!

    Oh wait, that's arsehole dialling.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: OMG! Facebook is down!

      "That's Mister Arsehole to YOU, copper!"

  7. John Styles

    When I dialed 999 from my mobile, the system asked me to dial 55 - apparently if you don't talk within a certain time it asks you to dial 55 (BBC news story therefore a bit garbled )

    1. ShadowDragon8685

      Wow. That story is... Frightening.

      I always learned (Yank here,) that dialing 911 and then not saying anything would send police your way, lights-and-sirens style. But then, that was twenty-five years ago, when I was just a wee nipper. (Gods help me, I'm OLD! How did that happen?!)

      Having said that, I wonder if it's still the case. I've caught my phone trying to call 911 once or twice, usually when I was trying to do something entirely different. I think I always managed to catch it before the call actually connected. Thankfully, the one I have now doesn't butt-dial (also, I never make use of back pockets.)

      It kind of does seem like there should be a way to surreptitiously send a signal to the cops that says "I'm in trouble, I CANNOT SPEAK, and I fear for my life, please come to my rescue sirens screaming." Obviously, misuing this feature would be... Well, bad. But on the other hand, having people who get killed while an operator cuts them off thinking that they butt-dialed is worse.

      On the other hand, treating every mistaken connection as a full-blown emergency is, evidently, a logistical impossibility. In an ideal world, it wouldn't be, and, just like straight out of the evil overlord list, any suspicious activity or loss of communication would be treated as a full-scale crisis, but you'd need to increase the number of police by an order of magnitude at least.

  8. I am Not A Tree Frog

    Even the best non-smart phone phantom dials...

    I was relieved to be rid of a Siemens C35i that would dial 999 inadvertantly thanks to a dedicated emergency button. Years later the Nokia 6310i does the same EVEN WHEN LOCKED. What has changed? Well for one thing, having to carry more kit in my pockets.

    Ironically, my first mobile from 1996/7, which gave me RF radiation headaches, NEVER dialed accidentally. It also had a keyboard cover...

    Please remind me, why did we get rid of those?

    I bought my mother the best granny phone I could find. Brilliant. It even texts me when it's running out of charge or credit. One day she put her bag on a coathanger and something hit the emergency button. After that episode she refused to use the phone ever again as the stress was agrevating her heart condition. How ironic...

    Use a smartphone? I have given up using a smart phone for calles because it is over 2 years old and can take ages to operate when GOOGLE and apps get in the way. Meanwhile a phone well over a decade old still works. Seriously thinking of taking a nearly two decade old mobe out of retirement to spite the feature rich pandemic.

    1. e^iπ+1=0

      Re: Even the best non-smart phone phantom dials...

      "Seriously thinking of taking a nearly two decade old mobe out of retirement to spite the feature rich pandemic."

      The phone may be all peachy and work perfectly after a couple of decades, but is there still a network that supports it?

      I have a perfectly functional Telstra (Nokia) CDMA phone, less than a decade old, which may not be supported by any network on this planet.

  9. Hilmi Al-kindy

    What happened to good old simple, reliable less irritating keyboard lock switch?

    What would it hurt phone manufacturers to put a physical lock switch that would prevent accidental dials all together while not preventing the ability to call emergency services from a password protected phone?

    I love touch screen interaction, but I also miss appropriately placed physical buttons where physical buttons made sense.

  10. AdamWill

    "In addition, the researchers believe that creating a system to automate the callback process for those accidental dials will help save time"

    If you are being murdered in your own home, please press 1 now. If you would like to hear about Google Now On Tap from our friends at Google, please press 2 now...

    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      'Please press 1 now'

      I Sooo Hate those auto systems.

      Straining your ear to hear the whole badly delivered message.. having to listen to the message several times to pick it up and there's always the vital part of the message that your fail to catch and have to repeat the process.

      Haven't they worked out a way to deliver the message on screen yet? I'm sure almost all phones have a screen of some fashion by now, even if it has to scroll the message...

  11. Teiwaz Silver badge

    Perhaps some technically proven standard is needed.

    You'd need Apple, Google and other OS/phone manufacturers to agree to find, agree upon and implement a standard lock bypass for emergency use that is:

    a) The same and easy to operate matter the make or model.

    b) can't be activated accidentally (they'll always be freak occurrences though)

    The fact that these companies try to sue each other out of existence on the slightest suspicion that one of their rivals might have even vaguely copied their patent unlocking 'feature' makes this highly unlikely ever to happen...

  12. Fab De Marco

    Not Just butt dials.....

    I did an accidental Call to emergency services while I was on the phone. I was working my way through a series of options whilst on the phone to an insurance company. It just so happens that the my first option was 1, next option was 1 and the option after that was 2. Without me knowing this activated the European 112 emergency call. I don't know if my face hit dial or if it auto called once it detected the phone was upright and against my face again all I know is that I had a very confused, then very angry 999 operator who wasn't at all helpful with my insurance question.

    So if this function must remain then 112 should be replaced with something with a 9 in it to reduce the likelihood of automated phone systems kicking it. If a phone system had 9 options then I think they should be at the sharp end of some legal recourse anyway.

  13. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Not going to try this at home....

    What happens if you enter 999999999 into your phone, then press the Green button? (This is probably what butt diallers have dialled, in reality, rather than just the three nines).


    If, under these circumstances, the phone system connects you to Emergency Services then this is a design problem IMHO. In the old days the third digit entered sequentially would trigger the call, but in this day and age you are submitting the call only once you press the Green Button. If the dialing algorithm in the exchange sees that too many digits have been entered, it should give an "incorrect number has been dialled" message.

    And to those who say you may be too panic-stricken to dial the correct number in an emergency I would say that you need to choose your phone carefully if this is likely to be a problem. The days of working out how to find the digits 999 on a keyboard in a fire (or if you are as old as me: how to do so on an old twisty dial telephone) where visibility is zero are long gone.

    Siri is probably responsible for a lot of fake calls (Google: Siri call police). But then again Siri is probably your best bet in zero visibility conditions if you have any smartphone that has a virtual keyboard.

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