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Pocket dialing (also known as pocket calling or butt dialing) refers to the accidental placement of a phone call while a person's mobile phone or cordless phone is in the owner's pocket or handbag. The recipient of the call typically hears random background noise when they answer the phone. If the caller remains unaware, the recipient will sometimes overhear whatever is happening in the caller's vicinity. A pocket-dialed call can continue for many minutes, or until the recipient's voice mail system ends the call.
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Modern cell/mobile phones come in three configurations: "flip" phones, where the phone is physically closed rendering the keys inaccessible, touch phones where a finger or stylus is required to use the controls, and open phones, where keys or buttons are always exposed. Pocket dialing primarily occurs with the latter.
Typically, the call is caused by objects in a person's pocket or bag poking buttons on the phone. Because of typical sequences of button presses, the accidentally dialed number is often one that has been recently called from that phone, or one near the beginning or end of the phone's contact list; a consequence of this is that people whose names begin with letters near the beginning or the end of the alphabet sometimes receive more accidental calls.
The keypad lock feature found on most mobile phones is intended to help prevent accidental dialing. However, it is still possible to forget to activate this lock (if the phone does not automatically activate it after a timeout), or to deactivate it accidentally. Many phones allow the emergency number to be called even when the keylock is active.
In addition to the inconvenience and embarrassment that may result from an erroneously dialed number, the phenomenon can have other consequences including using up a phone user's airtime minutes.
Accidental calls are often cited as being one of the more annoying consequences of cell phone usage. Given the haphazard nature of inadvertent dialing, most actual misconnections do not result from the selection of random numbers. Instead, pocket dialing frequently triggers the "recently dialed" and "contact" lists that are contained within modern cell phones. The caller is frequently unaware that the call has taken place, whereas the recipient of the call often hears background conversation and background noises such as the rustling of clothes. Due to the dialing of common numbers, the recipient is likely to know the caller, and may overhear conversations that the caller would not want them to hear.
Accidental calls, if not hung up immediately, tie up the recipient's phone line. If this is a landline, the recipient may not be able to disconnect the call in order to use the phone.
An Arkansas man, who allegedly hatched an elaborate plan to murder a former employee, is behind bars after he reportedly butt-dialed the victim and revealed the plot.
Operators of emergency services telephone numbers, such as 911 and 999, report receiving many false alarms that are likely a result of pocket dialing. These nuisance calls can result in a drain on operators' time, particularly during summer months, which is possibly due to an increase in roller coaster ridership. As many as 50% of emergency calls may be accidental calls. On many older phones in the United States, pushing and holding down the number '9' key will cause the phone to automatically dial 911. In many regions, the operators must spend time and resources to determine whether the call is real or accidental. The phone calls often sound similar to the sorts of struggles people have while being involved in an actual emergency.
Many mobile phones will allow dialing the emergency number even when the keypad is locked, which poses a particular problem if the number is easy to dial accidentally (e.g.: 999, 000). On some phones, while the keypad is locked or the phone is protected by a password, dialing the emergency number will be mapped to a soft key and shown on the display, generally requiring only two button presses to dial. This problem is often exacerbated by soft keys and "OK" or "Accept" buttons generally being located near each other physically. Ironically, phones with these characteristics may be significantly more prone to pocket dialing of emergency services when they are locked.
Apps to prevent pocket dialing exist for smartphones. Several are available for Android based phones such as Call Confirm. The app AskToCall is available for Apple's iPhone, but the recipient device must first be jailbroken.
A mobile phone advertising campaign by T-Mobile has touted their phones' resistance to inadvertent pocket dialing as being an advantage of certain flip phone models—specifically the Blackberry Pearl Flip.