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Android Text Messages Intermittently Going Astray 325

Posted by Soulskill
from the digital-foot-in-mouth dept.
theodp writes "Reports from Engadget and others suggest that Tiger Woods and Brett Favre might want to avoid Android for the time being. It seems Android's default text messaging app still has horrible text messaging bugs that can that intermittently send texts to the wrong person. 'This is ticking me off like no other technology glitch that I experienced in recent years,' reads one unhappy camper's post on a lengthy Help Forum thread opened on March 16th. 'If a bank deposited my paycheck into another person's account I wouldn't stress so much cause I can always get the money back. How the hell do you take words back? "Oh sorry boss you had to find out that I think you're an idiot, can I still keep my job, please please please?"' Over at Google Code, Issue 9392 — SMS are intermittently sent to wrong and seemingly random contact — carries a priority of 'Medium,' even though it has 600+ comments and has been starred by 3,600+ people."
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Android Text Messages Intermittently Going Astray

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  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Saturday January 01, 2011 @05:41PM (#34732664)

    So fix it yourself.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Who are you talking to, exactly? Is it just theodp, or everybody on Slashdot, or do you want my grandma to roll out her own new Android patch?

      Does releasing the source code absolve the vendor of any responsibility to support their product?

    • Re:It's open source (Score:5, Informative)

      by commodore64_love (1445365) on Saturday January 01, 2011 @06:49PM (#34733172) Journal

      Software should be free.
      Texts should be free.
      Free, free, free (or almost free).

      "When phones are on, they are ALWAYS connected to the cell phone tower. The phones and cell phone towers exchange little packets worth of information back and forth so when ever a call comes it, they can find you straight away. Can anyone guess how big the packets are? If you guess 160 characters, you are right." In other words they are charging for a service that should be free, because the phone and tower are *already sending* Texts to one another. It costs nothing for the company to append that Text to the outgoing packet.

      "When you think of it on a kilobyte level it costs us $1.09 per text message Kilobyte. The markup for costs is 7300%." So using an typical 2000 messages/month, that's just 320,000 characters or 0.00032 gigabytes. It shouldn't cost 25 dollars (what VirginMobile charges me). Continued here: http://www.spoiledtechie.com/post/The-Actual-Cost-of-Texting2c-Short-Codes-and-a-731425-Mark-up.aspx [spoiledtechie.com] and here: http://www.google.com/search?q=cost+of+texting [google.com]

      To summarize: Phones are "texting" towers constantly as part of the cellular standard.
      The appending of a personal message costs nothing extra for the company.
      The rates are outrageously high for the minuscule data passed.

      • In other words they are charging for a service that should be free, because the phone and tower are *already sending* Texts to one another. It costs nothing for the company to append that Text to the outgoing packet. "When you think of it on a kilobyte level it costs us $1.09 per text message Kilobyte. The markup for costs is 7300%."

        Wait...so if the packets back and forth between the tower and cell phone are 'free' because it's a required part of the cell protocol, how is charging $1.09 per text message a 7300% increase? 0 * 73.00 != 1.09.
        By that math, aren't you implying that text messages actually cost $0.014931507? (0.014931507 * 73.00 == 1.09)

        (Also, since I haven't had to do any math more advanced than balancing my checkbook since highschool over 10 years ago, I won't be the least embarrassed or surprised to find out that my

        • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

          If you read the website (I linked to it), the author says texting costs 109 cents per kilobyte sent. But Verizon's data cost is only .015 cents per kilobyte. So do some quick math and it's a HUGE markup in cost. 109 divided by .015 == 7300 markup according to the website.

          Actually that's not correct. It's actually a 109/.015 times 100 == 730,000% markup.
          And also my math says Verizon Data costs $40/5 gigabyte == 0.0008 cents per kilobyte.
          But it doesn't really matter.
          The point is the amount charged for sen

      • by icebike (68054) on Saturday January 01, 2011 @07:50PM (#34733570)

        The value of a text message is what ever the customer will pay for it. It has nothing at all to do with cost.

        Android comes with Google Talk. It is Free (included in your data plan) and is not arbitrarily limited to 160 characters.

        ON most cell networks, SMS messages utilize a signaling path that is used to notify phones of call arrival. (Specifically using the Mobile Application Part (MAP) of the SS7 protocol).

        That path has a finite capacity. When that path is busy, calls go direct to voice mail without so much as a ring on your handset.

        This type of traffic needs to be moved to the data plan instead of the network signaling path. Google Talk (which is simply Jabber) is the perfect tool for this and works across all platforms (cell phones, computers, tablets, etc).

      • by Gordonjcp (186804)

        When you think of it on a kilobyte level it costs us $1.09 per text message Kilobyte

        How the hell do you get that figure? Are you actually paying to send SMSes, or something? If you are, stop. It's 2011 now. Send your phone back to twenty years ago and get a new one.

        • I don't know why you are surprised.
          Not all plans include unlimited texting. VirginMobile used to have a "Texter's Delight" plan for ~2 pennies per text, but they eliminated it cause they claimed to be losing money. I honestly don't see how. I suspect an untruth.

          • by AlXtreme (223728)

            I suspect they were losing money, compared to their earlier plans that is.

            As long as customers don't mind paying for 160 bytes of text telco's will happily accept and make it last as long as they can. They'll start to see their texting-profits erode soon enough once more customers (read: teens) discover flat-fee mobile internet with apps like whatsapp can save them a hunk of cash every month.

        • Until last month I was paying 20 cents a text, which worked out to about $3.40 a month for me. less than the taxes on the line.

          I have an unlimited plan now but that's because it was bundled with some other things I wanted. about half of my friends have per text charges, and if they cared about the charges they would switch plans.

          Unlimited text being the standard is a recently phenomenon (last 3 or so years), and has not been something that has been around since the late 80s/early 90s as you suggest.

          • by Gordonjcp (186804)

            I don't think I've paid for text messaging for about ten years. My current package gives something like ten thousand SMSes free, with subsequent ones charged at 1p each.

      • When i had to switch in the UK from analog, there was no charge made on SMS.

        I was truly shocked when, a few years later, texting took off.

        It was like the X.25 channel on ISDN. There, known to a few, but of little use.

        Oh, silly me, i bought a phone, to be, err, a phone.

        Now, if you suddenly find a way to charge good money for something which is a byproduct waste in your system, why the heck not charge as much as you can?

        All you're doing is taxing cowardice. Which is a plentiful thing. Don't tell me you never

        • >>>When i had to switch in the UK from analog, there was no charge made on SMS.

          Precisely.
          SMS texting used to be free because it didn't cost the company anything.
          Now it isn't.

      • by arielCo (995647)

        To summarize: Phones are "texting" towers constantly as part of the cellular standard.

        Not exactly. AFAIK, in GSM and UMTS the standalone dedicated control channel (SDCCH) is occupied on both originating and terminating sides.

        The appending of a personal message costs nothing extra for the company.

        The store-and-forward SMSC servers cost very real money, and the hardware does limit throughput.

        The rates are outrageously high for the minuscule data passed.

        As per the first point, it's not about data but signalling resource usage. Don't think too much of sending over GPRS - a voice call would be interrupted and there's still the smallish data overhead involved anyway (some 30 octets per 140 bytes of payload).

    • by inKubus (199753)

      Oh sorry boss you had to find out that I think you're an idiot, can I still keep my job, please please please?

      "If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." --Eric Schmidt

      • by gothzilla (676407)

        An ancient piece of wisdom...
        "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all."

        Unfortunately we live in an age where narcissism abounds and people actually believe they should be immune to the consequences of their actions.

    • by jo_ham (604554)

      Google responds to these claims with "you're holding it wrong."

    • A lot of companies (i.e., Apple, Google, Oracle) use licensing that is "open source" in that the code can be used by anyone, however they are careful to always make sure that private modifications need not be published. Such companies avoid GNU like the plague, and only use it when forced (e.g., gcc). These companies then go further to make your stronger licensing ineffective by using DRM (e.g., Droid and TiVO) to make it even more unpleasant to hack their source base by depriving you of real control over

  • SMS (Score:5, Funny)

    by ae1294 (1547521) on Saturday January 01, 2011 @05:41PM (#34732666) Journal

    Hey Larry there's this bitching party down town tonight with strippers and blow!

  • Does the bug affect the Google Voice client as well or only the native SMS client?

    • by moogied (1175879)
      No it does not affect the Google voice client. That is all internet based... (except for obviously the end point). Its important to note this is only on certain builds. My G1 has never done this...
  • by Mister Pedant (1722084) on Saturday January 01, 2011 @05:47PM (#34732720)

    !

    sent from my android

  • Google support (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Animats (122034) on Saturday January 01, 2011 @05:48PM (#34732734) Homepage

    Eventually, Google may have to realize that some of their products actually require customer support.

    • by vlueboy (1799360)

      Eventually, Google may have to realize that some of their products actually require customer support.

      This topic comes up a much after Google released the Nexus. Ad agencies have no customer support.
        "Products" never receive any tech support... their owners do. Let me further remind us all that we aren't the real "customer;" that's actually the telcos, and we can't hear them asking for any help on our behalf so far.

      • by hedwards (940851)
        The Nexus One was sold direct to consumers early on via Google's website. Yes, IIRC, they did state that HTC is responsible, but somebody is ultimately responsible for responding. Too many of the problems were with Android for Google to be able to sidestep responsibility.

        That being said, I have a Nexus One and in general it's a great phone. It's just a couple of minor problems in terms of my use.
    • Re:Google support (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jimicus (737525) on Saturday January 01, 2011 @07:05PM (#34733264)

      Google don't provide the technical support, the handset vendors and operators do. And they're in an industry which typically doesn't provide much in the way of significant software updates once their product is released, preferring to dedicate developer time to working on the Next Big Thing.

      OTOH, Google are quite used to being able to ship beta products and fix them with later updates.

      Put it this way, I've got an Android handset. It's great as far as it goes, but I keep finding irritating bugs which simply shouldn't exist in anything that's production quality. Things like "Address book shows numbers if I scroll through entries and choose the relevant one, but not if I search".

      I need to go back to my operator, but I'm fairly sure they'll reload it with the latest version of the firmware then wash their hands of the matter - if it turns out I've got it set up in such a fashion as to make the bugs come about, I have no doubt that'll be my problem. Bugger the exorbitant cost, my next phone will be an iPhone 4. I'm sure it'll have foibles of its own, but they're unlikely to be in the basic usage.

    • by jd2112 (1535857)
      Perhaps you can submit help requests via SMS!
  • "Where t Hell iz my Hookers n Blow??? U is 2 hours late for NY parT, dog! Bet that fuk Zuckerberg's ParT already has Hookers n Blow! WTF????"

  • by the linux geek (799780) on Saturday January 01, 2011 @06:00PM (#34732830)
    I can tell you right now that if Microsoft Outlook had a bug that sent emails to random contacts, we would not be seeing comments that say "Never happened to me, so not an issue" or "Don't blame Microsoft, there are other clients available."

    Oh, and the "fix it yourself" people need to shut the fuck up too. That's fine when it's an open-source project with fifty users hosted on sourceforge, not when it's in-production software that runs on millions and millions of phones.
    • by Belial6 (794905) on Saturday January 01, 2011 @06:36PM (#34733098)
      As much as I hate to see MS and Google in the same light, I have to admit that in this case, you are absolutly correct.

      This is a high priority bug that has no excuse for not being fixed within days of it being reported.

      I thought the "fix it yourself" folks were being sarcastic. I can't imagine that anyone would really try to claim that this isn't a serious bug that Google needs to fix. The fact that there are free alternatives like Handcent does not in any way absolve Google from fixing the default text messaging client.
    • Oh, and the "fix it yourself" people need to shut the fuck up too. That's fine when it's an open-source project with fifty users hosted on sourceforge, not when it's in-production software that runs on millions and millions of phones.

      Settle down, it's just karma balancing itself.

      The more time you spend shouting from the rooftops how superior your preferences are, the more people are going to get in line to take you down a peg.

      Consider that the next time you decide how loud you'd like to shout about how OSS has more eyeballs.

  • uh.... maybe not (Score:5, Informative)

    by locust (6639) on Saturday January 01, 2011 @06:18PM (#34732964)

    If a portion of your user population has enough trouble with your UI that they are 'fat fingering' their way into trouble, then at some point it is _your_ issue.

    But that having been said, a quick glance through the support thread shows things like this: "http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/android/thread?tid=345259e6d424bad3&fid=345259e6d424bad300048dfbff785d0c&hltp=2"

    The code reverses the numbers before doing its (loose) compare... so uses the 7 last digits.

    Bob - 408-555-1234
    Fred - 510-555-1234

    become

    4321-555-804
    4321-555-015

    And it only uses the first 7 digits, which for both numbers, is "4321555"...
    So if you send a message to Fred, and it looks in the cache for the contact, there's a chance it will go to Bob.

    • Okay thats interesting. The way the numbering system works in Australia I think a number would potentially match three other numbers:

      +61 40 1234567

      +61 41 1234567

      +61 42 1234567

      +61 43 1234567

      ...would all match. You would have to be pretty unlucky but if all your friends are trying to get 1s and 8s in their phone numbers the odds might be a bit worse.

    • by jolyonr (560227)

      Wow. So there's a x in ten million chance (where x is the number of contacts you have minus 1) that it'll go to the wrong person. *

      Stupid, but I don't think this is the problem being seen by so many people.

      * - Or something like this. assuming entirely random distribution of numbers and all number combinations being valid and all phone numbers being same length.

      • In US, area codes and prefixes aren't even remotely random. A town may have one area code and only a handfull of prefixes, so if your contacts are local than the probability of an ambiguity would be very high. That's the significance of the number reversal.

    • Re:uh.... maybe not (Score:5, Informative)

      by Tailhook (98486) on Saturday January 01, 2011 @08:16PM (#34733740)

      The actual code is here [kernel.org].

      Reading the various compare() implementations definitely leaves room for doubt about correctness. The compareStrictly() code is a lovely illustration of the ambiguity that exists in the world of phone numbers. The comparison implementation mentioned above is found in compareLoosely() and is characterized in comments as "similar() not equals()", meaning collisions are possible. Which of compairStrictly/Loosely is actually use is subject to configuration; the caller can't know which is used without examining configuration resources.

      Haven't yet seen evidence that this is the cause of the problem folks are having; does the SMS code rely on this? The comments claim the compareLoosely() method is "identical enough for caller ID purposes." One could imagine that when the user hits 'reply' on a message the code might hunt through the phone book using compareLoosely and stop on the first "match", which may be incorrect due to a collision. There seems to be some correlation between reports of this phenomenon and the 'threaded' 'conversation' stuff in Android, which could mean people are relying on 'reply' and getting wrong results.

      Who knows. Bugs will happen and phones aren't trivial. The real problem in my mind is that this one has been on the books for a looong time now (six months, approximately) and it's not getting the attention it clearly deserves.

  • May I suggest downloading "handcent sms", it's far from perfect... but it's way better than the default messenging app. It's very customizable, too.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    If it doesn't send them to someone random it will just delete all of them. http://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=5669 That's also labled as medium.

  • It's been fixed (Score:5, Informative)

    by philj (13777) on Saturday January 01, 2011 @06:50PM (#34733180)
    http://android.git.kernel.org/?p=platform/packages/apps/Mms.git;a=commit;h=7bb3d8cf74ec1e4ae18cb814c17e12a00816f105 [kernel.org]

    Though I guess it'll take a while to get into builds/updates for existing handsets.
    • by werdnapk (706357)
      Not only fixed, but fixed about 6 months ago.
    • Though I guess it'll take a while to get into builds/updates for existing handsets.

      And therein lies the problem with the fragmented Android system.

    • Does not seem to be the same bug, since people state they had SMS go to persons they never sent a message to before, and the link you posted states a message might go to the recipient entered in an old draft message.

  • This bug is bad (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mysidia (191772) on Saturday January 01, 2011 @06:51PM (#34733184)

    But not as bad as the HTC 911 issues [blogspot.com]

    Sending messages to the right contact and making sure 911 calls work are things OS makers should go out of their way to ensure work correctly

    Do mobile vendors QA their products anymore?

  • can i get one? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Jaktar (975138)

    Almost makes me want to buy an iPhone or a Win 7 phone. Actually I don't want (nor do I own) any of these phones. Could someone just make a phone that I can dial numbers on to call someone? Thanks!

    • Nokia has a wide assortment of phones which do just that, and cost $50 or less to boot (without contract).

    • by T Murphy (1054674)

      Could someone just make a phone that I can dial numbers on to call someone? Thanks!

      To whoever makes that cellphone: make it a rotary dial too! (It would be a pain for texting, but it'd be worth it).

  • by Rich0 (548339) on Saturday January 01, 2011 @07:28PM (#34733416) Homepage

    Ok, I'll agree that this seems to be an important issue, but the 700 me-toos in a 24 hour period on the issue isn't going to help anybody.

    Go ahead and star the issue if you'd like (and enjoy reading the resulting 700 emails you'll get every day from the idiots shouting "this is important). But, there are better ways to get the issue escalated than to spam the bug. This just makes it that much harder for anybody actually working on the problem to fix it. Also, anybody who did care about the issue and who was working on it probably will take their names off the bug as soon as they get into work next week, or at least hit the mute button on the conversation thread in gmail.

    If somebody spammed a bug of mine on an open source project like this I'd do two things:

    1. Fix the bug.
    2. Ban anybody from the bugzilla who posted a me-too.

    Me-toos that include helpful step-by-step reproduction scripts, core dumps with symbols, insightful analysis, or whatever are of course perfectly welcome. "This is important!!!" is just whining - yes, it is important, now go find something productive to do...

    • by rmcd (53236) * on Saturday January 01, 2011 @08:04PM (#34733654)

      You're right about starring rather than spamming, but the attention had the intended effect. The priority is now marked critical.

    • I am the author/developer who put out the call to everyone to chime in with "me too" roughly 72 hours ago. I know this isn't helpful in fixing the issue but it was necessary in getting someone to take notice of the issue in the first place. I've been fighting to get someone to fix this for six months. If 700 me-too's is what it takes to get Google to throw some resources at this bug then I'm happy to put up with the 'bugspam' as you call it.
      • by Rich0 (548339)

        So, based on the posts in the bug it sounds like Google has been actually working on this, but having problems tracking it down.

        That being the case, perhaps you should have posted a reproducible scenario or something.

        I was just amused to see that as an interested party trying to understand what was going on (and hey, who knows, maybe even spot something that can be patched), I had to wade through 750 me-toos to find the 10 posts that had actual content in them.

        The many-eyeballs benefits of open source go aw

    • by arielCo (995647)

      Human nature - a silent click on a star doesn't look as persuasive as direct communication, plus it deprives the (l)user of self-expression. Plus, when the poor fellow sees that his bug has lingered on with "Medium" priority after a year and 800+ complains from unhappy campers complaining, he feels some extra "pressure" is in order.

      Silly as it may seem, by the time a user starts googling an issue (no pun intended), he's already a bit tense and exasperated. Maybe a tweak in the tracker interface would help,

  • by leenks (906881) on Saturday January 01, 2011 @07:45PM (#34733540)

    Surely this adds to the case for Android device manufacturers should be working together on a standard Android distribution, rather than on their own fragmented and mangled versions.

    They should accept they are just producing hardware, and that the Android customisations are irrelavent (much as it is with Windows laptops and vendor supplied crapware). Because they all produce customised versions of everything and stop supporting them as soon as the new hardware is released these bugs are going to exist in existing Android handsets for a long time, potentially forever.

  • by bobsszz (1393885) on Saturday January 01, 2011 @07:52PM (#34733576)
    This bug is pretty bad also. Someone should add the link to the original post. When you have 20mb of internal memory left or less, you can't receive any SMS anymore. Also the SMS message is lost forever. Seems there's a duplicate entry: Issue 11045: cannot receive SMS messages when internal memory is low http://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=11045 [google.com] Issue 4991: Can not receive SMS when internal memory is low. http://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=4991 [google.com]
  • It's a phone and this folks can point your position everywhere in the face of the earth but are unable to properly send a bloody sms!?! (Nokia is doing it well for more then a decade). This is "I live in my BMW because I can't pay the rent" stuff.
  • I have NO knowledge of this ever happening to me, nor do I ever recall getting an SMS from some random person...

    3600 reports out of millions of devices. Assuming on'y perhaps one in a thousand bother to report this, then you do get a large enough sample to be concerned about unless some of those 3600 are repeats.

    More interesting to me is the sad state of the POP/IMAP Email client. It's been substantially dysfunctional since birth. Only with the Android 1.6 release did it even actually delete the trash lo

  • "Oh sorry boss you had to find out that I think you're an idiot, can I still keep my job, please please please?"

    Actually, this is a good reminder that you should treat every single thing you send over any network as public speech.

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