Q: Can you explain “butt-dialing” or, more politely, pocket phoning/texting? What is happening in my pocket to trigger a call or text? How can I set my phone to make sure it doesn’t happen?
A: Many unexpected outgoing calls occur when you do not flip on the lock screen when shoving the phone in a purse or pocket. Without the lock screen to temporarily disable input to the phone’s screen or buttons, accidental brushes, taps or bumps can trigger a phone call or garbled text message, especially if the phone was left with the contacts app or keyboard open. (When unlocked phones shoved in a back pocket make a call this way, the incident is colloquially referred to as a “butt dial.”)
Glitchy system software and malfunctioning screens can also cause unplanned communications. Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana or any voice-activated apps may jump in and make a phone call if the software is set to listen for spoken commands and misinterprets your words.
To help prevent accidental calls and text messages, make sure you hit the Power/Sleep/Wake button to turn off the screen before putting your phone away. In your phone’s display settings, you should also be able to set the amount of time before the phone shuts itself off, and choosing a minimal period helps if you forget to manually switch off the screen.
If you do not have a lock screen and passcode set on the phone, you should add one to prevent unauthorized access to your device from other people (as well as your own body parts). On the iPhone, open the Settings app and choose Touch ID & Passcode, to get to the relevant controls. On an Android phone, go to settings to Security & Location to set up the screen-lock method of your choice.
If your phone is set to respond to spoken input, like voice dialing or waking up when you say “Hey, Siri,” “OK Google” or “Hey, Cortana,” your device may also be more prone to accidentally calling out on its own. These features can be controlled in the phone’s settings as well.
Google’s shield against malware
Q: Can rogue Google app developers still sneak malware onto people’s devices with Android app updates once the app has been initially approved as “safe”?
A: Keeping deceptive and malicious apps out of online stores in a continuing battle for Google, as it is for Apple, Microsoft and other companies that invite outside developers to create and sell applications through official channels. Scammers have recently added new tactics to get their wares onto devices, like hiding code in flashlight and utility apps and releasing “multistage” malware that shows no initial security threat — but gradually updates itself with more sinister software once it is installed.
Last year, Google announced a new security service for Android devices called Google Play Protect, which tries to thwart more malicious activity. Google Play Protect scans apps for safety before you download them to your device and then scans the apps on your device for malware to warn you of any security concerns. Newer forms of malicious software were originally able to evade detection, but after third-party security researchers notified the company of the deceptive apps, Google used its Play Protect software to remotely remove the malware from devices.
You can see the Google Play Protect settings on your device by opening the Google Play store icon, tapping the menu button in the upper-left corner and selecting Play Protect. The Play Protect screen shows the apps that Google has scanned recently for security issues and includes controls for disabling the scans after apps have been downloaded.