Avoiding accidental dialing

Once in a while, I have accidentally called some number without intending to. This is apparently a common phenomenon that is often referred to as ‘butt dialing’, whereby a smartphone placed in the hip pocket can, as a result of pressure exerted on its touch-sensitive face, end up dialing some number, usually from among one’s contacts or someone you just talked to.

I’ve done it, you’ve done it, and now the president’s lawyer is guilty of it too — I’m talking, of course, about butt-dialing. Butt-dialing, or “pocket-dialing” as it’s called in politer circles, is the result of a perfect storm of bad smartphone habits that starts with forgetting to lock your device. Next you toss your unlocked phone into a pants pocket (often a rear one). Then, as you move around with your unlocked phone shifting in your pocket, taps and bumps combine with static electricity and a bit of moisture to fool your phone’s touchscreen into thinking it’s being pressed, pinched or zoomed.
From there, it’s really just a crapshoot in terms of which app your phone opens or who it decides to call. In Rudy Giuliani’s case, the former mayor’s phone dialed a reporter Giuliani had recently spoken with. The call went to voicemail, capturing part of a chat between Giuliani and an associate.

It has happened to me although I do keep my phone in my side pocket, not the one on the hip. I had not given much thought to this, putting it down to the actions of prankster gremlins that live inside my phone but recently I accidentally dialed a friend who lives in Australia and because of the time difference, it was in the middle of the night for him. That spurred me to look into how to prevent this and learned that it is my fault and that these undesired calls can be prevented.

The key is to lock your phone before you put it in your pocket. The first thing to do is to make sure that you need a passcode to unlock your phone. The next is to disable the ‘Tap to wake’ option for those phones without a home screen button. The third is to reduce the time taken for the phone to lock when not in use. When I checked, the time take to lock the phone was one minute. I reduced that to the minimum of 30 seconds.

This article and the one linked to at thee top give you step-by-step instructions on how to do all those things.

Even with all those things in place, it is important to check to make sure the phone is locked before you put it in your pocket. It is easy to forget to do this and slip it in your pocket right after you use it, before 30 seconds have kicked in. By clicking on the button on the right hand side of the phone, you can make sure it is locked.

But the author adds:

For years, my dad has regularly pocket dialed me and my siblings. I thought this annoyance would die after smartphones took over, but the man’s pocket is talented, and still manages to leave me wordless voicemails every few weeks.

The above tips should eliminate, or drastically decrease, the number of accidental calls you make. But if you have a particularly talented butt that still manages to dial your friends without your knowledge, it may be time to look into other solutions. Maybe you need to remove the Phone and Contacts apps from your main home screen, hiding them five screens deep so they aren’t as easily accessible. Maybe you need to disable Siri and Google Assistant–related features (like the Pixel’s “Squeeze” gesture) to avoid assistant-generated calls. Android even has a number of apps that attempt to lock the phone when it detects it’s in your pocket, though your mileage may vary depending on the phone you have. With any luck, you’ll be able to stop the madness, and give your friends some peace and quiet.

I haven’t accidentally called anyone since I took those steps.


  1. Holms says

    You could also put the phone in a pocket with a bit of space, rather than one that jams it against you. I haven’t taken any precaution beyond that yet have not accidentally called anyone that I can recall, and haven’t pocket texted anyone for some eight years.

  2. StonedRanger says

    You could also take your phone and throw it in the deepest body of water you have nearby. I have no cell phone. Never wanted one and every day Im shown why this was a good decision on my part. If you want to talk to me, call me at home or come over and see me. Or heck, you could even join me on one of my adventures and we could talk as we walk.

  3. Silentbob says


    “Phone” is a misnomer. I use mine for just about everything (including posting this very comment). Very, very rarely for making one of those old timey 20th century “telephone calls”.

  4. sonofrojblake says

    What Silentbob said. I’ve got what for most of my life would have sounded like a science fiction supercomputer in my pocket. The fact it can make phone calls is less than 5% of what I actually use it for, so calling it a “phone” seems like an odd thing, comparable to calling my frying pan “the asparagus pan”, say.

    I do find it interesting that this is the direction we converged from. From the 1970s tech firms of all sorts wanted us to converge on what we now call a smartphone. The problem was, most of them wanted us to start with a barely-functioning computer, and carry that thing around with us all the time, charging it up every four or five hours, and even doing word processing on it. Psion had their organiser, Hewlett Packard had their iPaq (so close! turn that last letter over guys, and wait ten years, and you’re away!). Apple even had a go with the Newton. And everyone except gadget geeks shrugged and didn’t buy. And then phones just started getting more computery, until they became the thing that did all the things. And almost nobody predicted it, the way it went. But then people so rarely do…

  5. says

    I recall reading one of Arthur C. Clarke’s books set around 2000 where he mentions that everyone had a “personal computer” but it was a small, handheld device about the size of a calculator but which did so much more than a calculator. I believe it was written in the 1970s.

    Smart phones are kind of like Swiss Army Knives in that they have a zillion functions but only do a few of them very well. I still use an old style flip phone because it is comparatively rugged and I can easily slip it into a pocket when I go for a run, and it will stash away in my bike’s saddle bag with no problem when I go for a ride (the only reason I bring it along is to cover emergencies). The flip has many shortcomings as well, but for those applications I find it to be more practical. In general, I tend to prefer purpose-built items for specific tasks. For example, phones can take pictures, but it’s nothing like having a DSLR (and yes, I have had strangers poke fun at me while taking photos from mountain tops in the Adirondacks with a proper camera, as if their phone camera is going to give them anything close to what I can get; because hey, not everyone is just interested in selfies and snapshots). Literally “A camera? Who still uses those things?”

  6. anat says

    One of the advantages of phones as Swiss Army Knives of electronics is that people buy less stuff. A few years ago it caused IKEA some problems. No idea how the trend continued since then.

  7. khms says

    My first such portable gadget was a Palm, the primary application reading ebooks. I had two or three of those before my first smartphone. Still today, my primary application is reading ebooks. (Which incidentally means short-time-to-lock doesn’t fly. Too irritating when reading.)
    Unfortunately, turns out my job is telephony-related software, so a secondary use case is testing. (Which currently means if I get a call on my work number, I get … let me count … four ring tones more-or-less at the same time.) Actually using it as a telephone is a distant third.

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