back to article Cali cops' Clue caper: Apple technicans, in an iPhone repair lab, with the 1,600 silent 911 calls

For more than three months now, cops in Sacramento, California, have been baffled by a rash of false-alarm 911 emergency calls. Now the plod have manage to trace the calls back to the source – and it's one of Apple's US iPhone repair labs. The Sacramento County Sheriff and Elk Grove police departments say they have received …

  1. Korev Silver badge

    Maybe the wanted to listen to their iPlod

  2. Shades

    I once got a call on my mobile out of the blue from the local 999 operator asking me if I was okay. Obviously detecting the slight confusion at my end she asked me if I had a Nokia. Seemed a random thing to ask but as it happened I did have a Nokia (a 3310 to be precise). Apparently the 999 operators used to get a lot of random calls from Nokia phones as, even when locked, all you had to do was hold down the 9 key for a second and it would automatically dial 999 without even needing to press call.

    1. Shadow Systems

      Another reason to enjoy a flip phone...

      You physicly can not dial the thing unless & until you flip it open, something extremely difficult to do with it still in one's pocket.

      An old "candy bar" style phone I used to own used to do the butt dial Emergency call thing & it scared the hell out of me the first time it happened & the operator called me back to figure out WTF. I appollogized profusely & RTFM again to get the sequence for locking/unlocking the keypad so I couldn't do it again... Except that Emergency calls were the one thing it COULD do while locked.

      Cue the prompt switch to a flip phone. No more butt dialed calls, no more Emergency operators calling back, & no more headaches. Woot!

      1. JeffyPoooh

        Re: Another reason to enjoy a flip phone...

        Flip front cover phone cases can be used with modern slab phones.

        Such cases also help to keep the phone's screen from getting all scratched up.

    2. Chewi

      Yeah, my 3310 did that to me once as I was pulling it out of my pocket but luckily I noticed and hung up before it connected... I think.

    3. druck Silver badge

      My old Nokia once called the emergency services from a pocket dial of 08, two buttons in a row which are very easy to press in turn accidentally. It wasn't a number I was aware of being used for this, and no other phone has done it, it but apparently it is an emergency number somewhere.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    please, please, I'm trapped! It's dark here, I'm scared! Please, let me out!

    What's your name, m'm?!

    Siri! Pleased to meet you!

  4. Notas Badoff

    You don't want to see us again

    Had a manual phone long ago with some kind of "shoulder rest" plastic thingy attached to handset. It rather unbalanced the phone in its cradle. That base unit also had an emergency services dial button. Jiggle base, handset falls over, and easily hitting 'emergency' button.

    'bout the third time the police came out for a look-see around the whole flat, they indicated they didn't want to see that phone again. Call to action? "You don't want to see us again, do you?"

    Maybe just park a few several police cars and a swat unit around the repair center for days as needed for "quick response" to every incident logged? Getting shut down for a while each time will cause intense cooperation quickly.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Had a call from the local police saying they had received a silent call from a neighbour. They said I was registered as a "key holder" and would I check everything was ok. I hadn't realised that someone had registered that information with them - although I was aware of the background to it. It wasn't the only time I would find myself in a position of first responder to a medical emergency there.

    Went over - empty house apart from the dogs wandering about. I finally twigged that her son had a phone extension cable under his PC desk - which had a faulty junction box. The dogs snuffling about for dropped crumbs had rocked it back and forth causing a random "line break" number dial.

    1. Swarthy

      Phreakin' dogs!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Didn't Apple once upgrade IOS so that dialing any number used by emergency services in any country would connect to the local emergency services (sort of like the eay while in UK 999 is the official emergency number that 112 and 911 also connect) not realizing the the Vodafone voicemail number was the same as the emrgency number somewhere in eastern Europe or Asia so that anyone checking their voicemail was being connected to a 999 operator!

    1. Adrian Harvey

      I don’t know about that... I do know that 112 is part of the GSM standard and any GSM compliant phone can call that number and it will route to the local emergency services. Useful to know when you’re stuck in some strange country with a random emergency number. (I’m looking at you, Australia. With your 000 indeed.)

      1. Korev Silver badge

        Knowing 112 meant I could call out the cavalry to help a badly injured guy in France a few years ago. I was put through to the Police initially but they got hold of the ambulance.

        Should you ever need it the number for an ambulance in France is actually 15.

        1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

          Also 112 in France puts you through to an international (i.e. multilingual) answering service (or at least it did a few years ago when I used it) which is handy if you don't speak the local lingo well.

  7. Steve Knox

    Hey Apple!

    Faraday Cage.

    Look it up.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hey Apple!

      Bit difficult to diagnose hardware faults regarding signal reception from inside a Faraday cage...

      1. Martin-73 Silver badge

        Re: Hey Apple!

        "Bit difficult to diagnose hardware faults regarding signal reception from inside a Faraday cage.." not really. You install a fake femto cell in the chamber....

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hey Apple!

          You install a fake femto cell in the chamber....

          I'm kind of surprised that they don't do something like that already - having known defective devices trying to connect to a live public network doesn't sound like a great way for a repair centre to operate. It's not as if there isn't readily available communications test equipment that can emulate a mobile phone network for just this purpose.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Hey Apple!

            But if the public network can't tolerate defective devices - let alone malicious ones - it isn't worth a damn.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Hey Apple!

              Doesn't this article suggest to you one very good reason why they shouldn't be testing on a live public network?

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Hey Apple!

                Actually it suggests that there's a design flaw in the phones or their software, which may be causing millions of unintentional 911 calls in normal everyday use.

                1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

                  Re: Hey Apple!

                  Nope, the design flaw is in their hiring practice for repair techs

    2. Paul Herber Silver badge

      Re: Hey Apple!

      Their second album was rubbish.

  8. Chairman of the Bored

    Maybe the AI panicked...

    ...upon seeing particularly ham-handed techs, the iSpies' internals said, "screw this! Im getting outta here!" And called for assistance

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE. Re. Batt Dial

    Not saying who, but someone here discovered the hard way that on very old Galaxy phones, under certain conditions of low battery just before it died the touch screen went a bit sensitive and tried to dial the last number in its memory.

    Guess what happens when this is the SOS number (ie emergency services/police)

    Yup, you guessed it.

    We were most puzzled why upon plugging it back into the mains and phone turning back on automagically the Police phoned us up on the same phone to see why we'd dialed 999.

    Cue a very rapid firmware update, problem never came back!

    This also happens on some 'phones if the SIM card goes bad, certain failure modes can cause the internals of the phone to act weird and one cause is putting a 3.3V SIM in a 5V phone.

    It sometimes will work for a very short time but then stops updating/etc.

    And due to excess power drain on bad microSD's this can also be a symptom other than battery lasting a matter of hours rather than days, controller on screen can go "Full Poltergeist" etc.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Apple vs. Anyone Else

    If this repeated dialing 911 accident had happened at (for example) 'Faruud's Fone Fixer' shop, then anyone present would have been lightly beaten-up by a shouty 'roid-rage SWAT Team and then Faruud would spend the next 8,000 years in State prison.

    The apparently overly-gentle response to the Apple shop's endless mistakes is actually slightly disturbing.

  11. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Surprisingly easy to do.

    Even on a big old domestic push button phone.

    I managed to do that once when trying to catch a phone I'd sent flying from the hall stand. I'd somehow snagged the cable as I walked past.

  12. Roq D. Kasba

    Anyone remember 0990 premium numbers?

    In the UK, 0990 was a common prefix for national numbers for a while, such as vehicle hire companies central call centres.

    At the same time, pulse (rather than tone) dialling was still being phased out of common usage, but legacy phones still used it. 1 pulse for a 1, 2 for a 2, 10 for a zero. And some legacy phones were a bit crap.

    And so so we come to the perfect storm that was my wife phoning a national van hire company and asking for a minibus, for tomorrow, to hold 12, with an a concerned 999 operator asking my confused wife to clearly state if she wanted an ambulance or not. The phone had malformed the leading zero of the 0990 number meaning the exchange "saw" 9990-xxxxxx, and connected the 999 to a valid number with the remaining pulses going into the void.

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

      Re: Anyone remember 0990 premium numbers?

      One of my customers suppliers has a phone number of 648999. With some slightly frail telephone wiring they very regularly got through to the emergency services.

      Eventually BT (it was before openreach were a thing) replaced the incoming cable and the problem stopped.

    2. paulf

      Re: Anyone remember 0990 premium numbers?

      Yes, but it wasn't quite premium rate in the naughty sex chat line sense, although it was expensive to call (and still is).

      0990 was BT's National-call product - a non-geographic number but charged as if a call to a national rated call. 0345 was the local call rated equivalent (Lo-call). 0990 became 08705 while 0345 became 08457.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    What about the unfortunate symptom of some phones when they get dropped and then run over, "scream out in horror" by trying vainly to dial one last time before expiring?

    Wonder if this can be used in some way to track lost phones?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's an American megacorp

    Of course the police let them off.

    They were not black and poor, which would have resulted in a shooting or jail.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like