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Don't pull a Rudy Giuliani: Prevent butt-dialing with these 5 tips

Pocket-dialing can get you in trouble -- no ifs, ands or butts about it.

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Don't be the butt of the joke -- lock your phone before stowing it in a pocket so it doesn't randomly dial someone.

Angela Lang/CNET

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.
 
Butt-dialing happens to everyone, so here are five ways to make sure it's not your behind on the line when it does. 

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Forgetting to turn off your phone's screen before pocketing it is the first step to an accidental butt-dial. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Lock. It. Up.

If everyone would just remember to hit the power button to turn off their screens before pocketing their phones, we could leave butt-dialing behind us. But I get it -- the whole point of owning a phone is convenience. Thankfully, both iPhones ($699 at Amazon) and Android phones have an auto-lock setting that can turn your screen off for you. iPhones will turn off their screen and lock the phone in as little as 30 seconds with no activity. Android phones have an even shorter option: 15 seconds.
 
Depending on how you use your phone, setting auto-lock to 15 or 30 seconds may be more trouble than it's worth. For example, if you read a lot of news or e-books you may find your phone screen going dim before you're finished reading the page you're on. But if you want to avoid the shame of pocket-dialing, you may want to try and adjust the time setting so it works for you.
 
Here's how to change the auto-lock or sleep setting on your iPhone or Android:
 
1. Open Settings.
2. Tap Display or Display & Brightness.
3. Tap Sleep or Auto-Lock or Screen timeout (your phone may call it something slightly different).
4. Choose the shortest interval you feel comfortable with.

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Google's new face unlock feature uses a combination of radar and infrared sensors.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Use a passcode, fingerprint or facial recognition to unlock

If you don't have a security lock on your phone, set one. Not securing your phone with a security lock can leave you vulnerable to crooks and snoops and makes your phone more likely to unlock itself in your pocket. Adding a passcode or requiring a fingerprint or facial identification to unlock your phone makes butt-dialing practically impossible, so long as you lock your phone before you pocket it. 

Here's how to set your phone to require a passcode, fingerprint or facial identification to unlock:
 
1. Open Settings.
2. Tap Security and lock screen or Touch ID & Passcode or Face ID & Passcode.
3. If you already have a passcode, you may be asked to enter it.
4. Set your phone to require a passcode, fingerprint or facial identification to unlock.

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If your digital assistant can be summoned from the lock screen it can also accidentally make calls without your knowledge. 

Nicholas Tufnell/CNET

Give your digital assistant a break when your phone is locked

Whether you use Siri on iPhone or Google Assistant on Android, it's quite possible your digital assistant is to blame for the occasional butt-dial. If your phone is set to always listen for "Hey, Siri" or "OK, Google," or you can summon either assistant with a button while the screen is locked, your chances of butt-dialing increase exponentially. All it takes is a misunderstood word or phrase or an errant button press and next thing you know your assistant is dialing out.
 
Here's how to restrict Siri to only respond when your iPhone is unlocked:
 
1. Open Settings.
2. Tap Siri & Search.
3. Next to Listen for "Hey Siri" turn the toggle off.
4. Next to Allow Siri When Locked turn the toggle off.
 
Here's how to restrict Google Assistant to only respond when your Android phone is unlocked:
 
1. Launch Google Assistant.
2. Tap the inbox icon in the lower left corner to open Assistant settings.
3. Tap your profile picture in the upper right corner.
4. Tap Assistant on the top menu bar.
5. Scroll all the way down to the Assistant devices section and tap Phone.
6. Next to Access with Voice Match turn the toggle off.
7. Next to Lock screen personal results turn the toggle off. 

The ZTE Open feature a traditional phone dialer, with tabs along the bottom to access recent calls, contacts, and the dialpad.

Clear your recent call history to avoid butt-dialing the people you last spoke to.

Screenshot Clifford Colby/CNET

Practice good phone hygiene

As happened with Giuliani, your phone may pocket-dial the last person you spoke to. One way to make sure that doesn't happen is to clear your recent call history. You may especially want to do this if you've recently spoken with, shall we say, sensitive contacts, like your boss, an ex or a political journalist.
 
Also be sure you don't have anyone saved in your speed-dial or favorites folder to whom a butt-dial might result in negative repercussions. Basically, the easier you make it to call someone, the easier it is for your phone to accidentally call them.
 
If you have an Android device, you can take an additional step and make sure you have on-body detection turned off. The whole point of on-body detection is to keep your phone unlocked while it's on your person, which is simply an open invitation to butt-dialing.
 
Here's how to turn off on-body detection on an Android phone:
 
1. Open Settings.
2. Tap Security > Smart lock
3. Enter your passcode.
4. Tap On-body detection.
5. Turn the toggle off.
 
Butt-dials aren't the only modern-day frustration vexing smartphone owners. As the sheer volume of robocalls continues to rise, wireless carriers are starting to address the problem themselves, but in the meantime there's still more you can do to protect yourself. If you're stoked about dark mode on your phone but salty more app developers haven't gotten onboard with it yet, at least Gmail has finally caught up with the dark mode trend. Finally, are you still trying to figure out the right combination of presses, taps and swipes to take a screenshot on your phone? Check out our guide to taking screenshots on any phone.

Originally published earlier this week.