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Google Android Cellphones Handhelds

Google Helped Cause the Mysterious Increase In 911 Calls SF Asked It To Solve (bbc.com) 166

theodp writes: Android users have long complained publicly that it's way too easy to accidentally dial 911. So it's pretty astonishing that it took a team of Google Researchers and San Francisco Department of Emergency Management government employees to figure out that butt-dialing was increasing the number of 911 calls. The Google 9-1-1 Team presented its results in How Googlers helped San Francisco Use Data Science to Understand a Surge in 911 Calls, a Google-sponsored presentation at the Code for America Summit, and in San Francisco's 9-1-1 Call Volume Increase, an accompanying 26-page paper.
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Google Helped Cause the Mysterious Increase In 911 Calls SF Asked It To Solve

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  • Simple (Score:5, Informative)

    by JMJimmy ( 2036122 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @08:29PM (#50690665)

    Many Android phones when you press the power button the screen activates with the "Emergency Call" touchable which means it easily enters calling mode. Since emergency services is the only valid call you can make from that screen those are the "butt dials" getting through.

    More annoying is the fact that holding the power button, something that seems to happen often in my pocket, brings up the "silent/airplane mode/power off" options without having to enter the pass key. I've missed so many calls because of this damn "feature". It's a combination of bad phone design and bad software design.

    • Or you could stop putting your phone in your pants pockets. Either or :3
      • Re:Simpler (Score:5, Insightful)

        by JMJimmy ( 2036122 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @08:46PM (#50690743)

        Sorry, not going to start carrying a murse.

        • Re:Simpler (Score:5, Funny)

          by lucm ( 889690 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @09:14PM (#50690827)

          What about a belt clip? It worked for Batman.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Those phone are so big these days, why can't they just put wheels on them? It's almost at the point where it's easier to carry my friends than my phone.

        • Re:Simpler (Score:4, Interesting)

          by PPalmgren ( 1009823 ) on Friday October 09, 2015 @08:52AM (#50692641)

          If you can't put your phone in your front pocket where you won't ever butt dial and instead put it in your back pocket, news flash, you're already wearing a "murse." Its just in the form of ball-crushing tight pants with no space.

          Free the dangly appendages, wear more comfortable pants!

          • Except that I do keep it in my front pocket and it still "butt dials".

            • Except that I do keep it in my front pocket and it still "butt dials".

              Wow, you must have a really big butt, if it reaches all the way to the front pockets ;-)

      • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

        Where the hell else can I carry it? I've got jeans and a t-shirt. The phone fits in my jeans pocket so that's the only logical place to put it. I guess I could get a belt clip and have it catch on everything but I think not. How about they could just make it where I have to actually unlock the screen to make a call? Problem solved!

        • "Where the hell else can I carry it? I've got jeans and a t-shirt."

          That's exactly why I use a fisher-style vest in summer.

        • by Pax681 ( 1002592 )

          Where the hell else can I carry it? I've got jeans and a t-shirt. The phone fits in my jeans pocket so that's the only logical place to put it. I guess I could get a belt clip and have it catch on everything but I think not. How about they could just make it where I have to actually unlock the screen to make a call? Problem solved!

          fucking simple... I buy trousers (or pants to you yanks :P ) with my stuff in min... cargo trousers, the map pocket is great for yer phone when paired with bluetooth headset.
          I also buy shirts/tops at times with phone in mind.It's not rocket science
          But no... it always boils down to.. " WAAAAH... moan moan moan"
          So just for you..... have a gander at this [youtube.com]

          • Heh-heh. Nice one. Bloody first world problems, eh? I've been using belt clips since my first mobile phone and never had the issues mentioned by people. Maybe I'm just not treating my costly hardware like cheap disposable rubbish. If using a belt clip makes me such a horrible person as noted by someone else earlier, well - fuck! It's not like they're the kind of person I'd want to meet, is it?

            • I've been using belt clips since my first mobile phone and never had the issues mentioned by people.

              What I've been thinking all this time. I actually use a case with belt loops--that way it can't accidentally pop off my belt.

              No accidental dialing. No cracked or scratched screens. No lost phones. I've got very little sympathy for these people when a simple solution exists.

              • Nice. I don't wear a belt otherwise I might have gone that route myself. My current one is a very slim but solid 2-part plastic job with a ribbed surface for grip. (Ooer!) One part is good enough to stay on the back of the phone (Galaxy Note II) with cutouts for speaker & camera on the back, volume & power either side & plenty of space for 'phones, USB & S-Pen top & bottom and also has slightly raised edges to keep the screen from hitting ground if dropped on a flat surface. The oth

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by slazzy ( 864185 )
        Agreed, I started glueing mine to my head, looks cool and I get better reception!
    • I've had this happen to me a few times, though it was never a problem. Try designating a pocket solely for your phone.
      • It is solely for my phone... it's the pressure when I kneel down against the outside of the pant leg. With my phone the power button is on the top corner so it seems very easy to trigger in this way. There should be a two button option for problem phones (software) and/or a button that has guards at either end to prevent evenly distributed pressure from pressing the button (hardware).

        • You could always buy pocket T-shirts. It's certainly not the most fashionable solution, I admit.
        • There are numerous software solutions, you just have to root your phone and loose the warranty on it first.
          • Would a tight warranty be better than a loose one? If it is loose, it might fall off the phone randomly.

      • This does not work. You already designate a pocket only for your phone if you don't want it to be horribly scratched up by your pocket change and keys. This power on accidentally happens in the front pocket, especialy on my phone where the "home" key also doubles as an extra power button. I've slowly gotten a habit of taking the phone out of my pocket when I tie my shoes in the morning, but a couple of times that has led me to forget and leave the phone behind.

        This is without having a bulky case to wrap

        • What if the software were to be redesigned to accept a particular rhythm of your choosing. Anything other than the chosen sequence would be ignored.
        • The case is what makes the difference for me ; without the case, I've had an occasion where the phone factory-reset itself ; not so hard on Android, only requires pushing the power and volume buttons in a particular order.

          With one of those flexible plastic shell cases, pushing the buttons requires more effort than a pants crease can manage.

    • Which pockets do you put things in? I don't understand why people prefer their back pockets to put things into, or else back pocket dialing wouldn't be a thing.
      • by lucm ( 889690 )

        I don't understand why people prefer their back pockets to put things into

        They try to look like 18 years old chicks, that's why

      • I agree, and I find it especially ironic and hilarious when those same people complain because they keep breaking their phones screens.
      • I don't understand it either. I keep my phone in either my shirt pocket or my front pants pocket. I don't want to sit on the damn thing.

    • My new phone has this problem. The "home" button also acts as an extra power button. There's no need for an extra power button, but apparently they thought it was convenient. But in Lollipop the option to disable that extra power button is removed; you are stuck with it unless you root the phone. So this means the phone can easily power itself on even when it's in your pocket. I have often found myself walking around and hearing a blipping sound coming from my pocket, only to notice that it was trying

      • Which phone? I've got a Nexus 5 on pure Lollipop and it doesn't exhibit that behavior. Pressing the Home button sends you back to your home screen, or locks the device (from the lock screen - I have Smart Lock enabled). Long-pressing it does nothing. Swiping the home button up takes me to the Google Now screen. I think you're dealing with a modification to Android made by a phone manufacturer or carrier.
        • It's Samsung, and the home doubling as power button is a Samsung feature. But you used to be able to remap it, until the Lollipop release. So not really Google's fault per se, but a continuing part of the trend to remove control and customization from users.

          However, once a phone does get powered on and it's still in your pocket, then all sorts of problems will happen. There must be a way by law to dial an emergency number if if you can't unlock it (ie, you don't know the PIN or can't type it, say you pul

        • I've had a Nexus 5. It doesn't have a hardware home button.

      • With my old non-smartphone 133113313122 was a valid emergency number! It would ignore all the wrong digits and see: 133113313122, and 112 is the international emergency number. And this was even with a keypad lock engaged. A good design would reset the dial string on an invalid entry. Instead, it could take hours to finish dialing the emergency number, but it would get dialed in my pocket.

        • A good design would reset the dial string on an invalid entry.

          What if your hands are shaking because you're dying because the terrorist who's trying to nuke New York just shot you, and you need to warn Bruce Willis before you do? Getting right 3 in a row might be quite hard in those circumstances. So it's not really a good design, unless you want the nuclear terrorists to win.

          • You tell my local dispatcher to be more forgiving of butt-dialers, then. They're the ones letting the terrorists win. Instead, they literally told me to buy a new phone.

          • Well then, if there's a possibility of a real emergency then those phones should be constantly connected to the hotline, 24/7. They just keep listening until someone says "help, I can't touch my phone or interact with it but tell someone that the aliens are landing!"

    • Many people don't value ergonomics as much as it should be. Most of these annoying problems, and a lot of others, have never been part of the iPhone/iOS, even in the early devices. The iPhone/iOS is still far ahead of Android in terms of ergonomics.
    • Re:Simple (Score:4, Interesting)

      by toejam13 ( 958243 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @10:46PM (#50691161)

      I have the same problem as you. The emergency call button is too easy to activate and the power menu can be activated without unlocking the screen. Both are design faults. Some third party Android editions remedy the second problem, but not the first.

      My ancient Nokia brick phones had a screen lock. They also had a bypass for emergency calls. But instead of automatically dialing 911/999, it brought you to the dialer screen. The only number you could enter was 911/999. Anything else would prompt for the unlock code.

      I've seen people argue that dialing emergency services should be as simple as possible, that a catastrophic injury might make navigating menus and dialers difficult. For every scenario like that, how many times have emergency call centers run out of free operators, with a butt dialer or two being enough to push them to capacity?

      • Re:Simple (Score:5, Insightful)

        by JMJimmy ( 2036122 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @11:06PM (#50691223)

        They just need to change the button from a press to a slide or something like that... simple to access but not simple to accidentally press.

        • While that is a very good idea, why can't I simply choose not to have the emergency dialer displayed on my lock screen?

          • Because the emergency dialler requirement is not intended solely for the person who owns the phone. It's expected that any telephone that you pick up (land line or mobile) will work for emergency calls. This is also why landlines can still make emergency calls even if they are nominally disconnected by the phone company.
            • Are you talking about US federal law or some state or local law?

              The reason I ask is because I tested some copper phone jacks that once-upon-a-time had landline service to them but no longer have service, and there is no dialtone (but there is still power to make the lights on the phone light up). Thinking that perhaps one could still call 911 without a dialtone, but not wanting to waste EMS time handling a bogus call I contacted Verizon support (1-800-VERIZON) to ask.

              The representative I spoke with s
          • why can't I simply choose not to have the emergency dialer displayed on my lock screen?

            Because the phone must be able to dial 911 even if it's locked. That's the law.

        • by c ( 8461 )

          They just need to change the button from a press to a slide or something like that

          Seems to be what they've done in 5.1.x... at least, nothing on the lock screen appears to respond to just a press or a press-and-hold. It's all slides or double-tap.

  • Full transcript of Google's remarks follow:

    Uhh... We're sorry. We're really, really sorry.

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @08:45PM (#50690737)

    "Help! My owner has me trapped in these tight jeans!"

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 08, 2015 @09:27PM (#50690889)

    Butt texting... now THAT"S a challenge.

  • Emergency Call on my phone takes you to a screen where you can dial only previously manually entered emergency numbers.... on my phone, its empty. I still don't understand why on my device I have no choice on whether or not to have "emergency call" appear on the lock screen.
    • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

      Isn't there some US law that all phones have to be able to make 911 calls?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      IIRC it's because all cellphones are mandated by law to be able to make 911 calls even if they're locked, out of service or even SIMless.

      My Android phone can make emergency calls even before the phone's main storage area is decrypted at bootup.

  • by Etherwalk ( 681268 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @10:21PM (#50691073)

    I accidentally emergency called 911 on a blackberry a few years back. I have no idea how long the call was going before I realized it was on, but there was nobody on the other end.

  • "Peoples butts are too fat"

  • I thought the generic term is pocket dial.

    I'm guessing that "butt dialing" is more for girls or others who wear skinny jeans or those who enjoy sitting on the phone.
    I am also guessing that skinny jeans and "butt"-dialing does not usually apply to slashdot users.

  • by fragMasterFlash ( 989911 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @11:55PM (#50691351)
    My biggest gripe with using an Android phone is that the phone unlocks during calls even when they placed/answered via a hands-free Bluetooth device. Answering a call via Bluetooth with your phone in your pocket unlocks it and starts feeding the UI random screen clicks. People have been filing bugs to the Android team over this issue since 2011 and it has never been addressed, and the newer bugs keep getting pushed to lower and lower priority. Its safe to say at this point that Android butt dialing is now a feature and is included by design.
  • by l0n3s0m3phr34k ( 2613107 ) on Friday October 09, 2015 @02:17AM (#50691583)
    is to change 911 to 0118 999 881 999 119 725 3 instead. It's an easy number to remember, just learn the song!
    • Or, what about an intelligent screening system that only routes the call to an operator if voice is detected. What could go wrong with that?

  • Bothers reading bug reports or they would have fixed this issue 7 years ago when users first started reporting how shitty the lock screen configuration is

  • But I did 3 pocket-dials in a short time. I have no idea how that happened, since my iPhone was locked. Those calls were to my GF and my mom, so it appeared to be accessing my Favorites, but how it did that is a mystery.

  • by WaffleMonster ( 969671 ) on Friday October 09, 2015 @12:24PM (#50694255)

    I've had this problem myself and at first scratched my head at the odds of random brushes across the digitizer dialing only 911 then pushing call was even remotely possible. Then I realized there is practically no "debounce" and the random brushes are allowed to be registered at uselessly inhuman rates.

    Secondly a proximity sensor is present in all but about 15% of android devices. If the emergency dialer checked this sensor before pocket calling emergency services this problem would be significantly reduced. You could at the very least include an extra on-screen hoop such as long pressing keys that would only be activated if the sensor detected it was in a pocket so that emergency services could still be contacted even if the sensor malfunctioned.

    Another thing is the design just sucks.. if the goal is quickly and easily contact emergency services dialing 911 on a touch screen display can't be even remotely optimal. If your going to mandate anything it should be a single physical button intentionally engineered to be maximally both easy to use and resistant to unintentional use. Drop your phone, fall, get hit by something, get into an accident.. cracked displays and broken digitizers are by far the most vulnerable and failure prone components.. good luck making a call without them.

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