December 20, 2014

The "Android SMS Bug" Does Not Exist [Updated]

Update: I was wrong. See this new post for new information about the specific conditions that cause the bug. -CF

Let me tell you all a story of my youth. I was in high school, driving around in my first car, a 1976 Mercury Monarch. Approaching an intersection, I saw the stop sign too late; I was going to run right into the guy coming the other way. Last ditch effort, I slammed on the brakes and, inexplicably, the car lurched forward into the intersection. What the eff? The other car swerved, ended up just running into the Monarch’s trunk, took off the back bumper. It was my first accident and my first ticket (for blowing that stop sign). But I couldn’t understand, what was wrong with the car that made it accelerate when I slammed on the brakes?

That’s right, folks, I had slammed on the gas, not the brakes. Nothing was wrong with the car. But it took a while to get that through my head.

Over the past week, a supposed Android bug has gotten a lot of press, both on Android-related sites and mainstream tech sites. A bug report claims that SMS messages intended for one person are getting sent to a different, unintended recipient. Worrisome to be sure, but why has Google taken no action on it, leaving it at medium priority until all the bad press this week?

My guess is that they have been unable to reproduce it. It’s certainly never happened to me, nor to the large majority of Android users. As I write, about 4,500 people have starred the issue on Google Code. Sounds like a lot until you remember that’s 1.5% of the number of Android phones being activated every day. And, reading through the comments, you’ll see that most of those 4,500 have not experienced the issue. They’re starring it because they read about it somewhere.

There are a few reports from people who say they have personally been affected by the issue. Many say it happens when they are rapidly switching between multiple conversations. Others offer magical thinking like “it seems like deleting all my texts fixes the issue for a while” and “it got a little better with the 2.2.1 update.” Sounds like user error to me. Just like when I slammed on the gas, absolutely sure it was the brakes, I’m sure they honestly believe they are not at fault.

Are there other possibilities? Sure:

  • It could be a user interface issue that makes users susceptible to errors, especially when they are trying to switch quickly.
  • It could be hardware issues with specific phones or specific models of phones, maybe touchscreen issues?
  • It could be a real bug.

My guess is that it’s user error, perhaps exacerbated by some user interface feature that makes the error more likely than in third party apps.

Today, Google upped the priority to critical, which some took as confirmation that the bug is real. But at the same time, a Google representative noted that “this is a very difficult to reproduce bug.” It seems clear the priority was upped due to all the bad press, despite their never being able to reproduce the issue internally.

Could I be wrong? Sure, it happens now and then. But the burden of proof is on those claiming a bug exists. I will gladly and loudly raise the alert if someone can produce a reliable way for anyone to reproduce the issue and/or logs of the issue occuring. The steps I’ve seen to reproduce the issue involve switching rapidly between multiple conversations, which, again, is a good way to create user error.

this is a very difficult to reproduce bug.this is a very difficult to reproduce bug.

  • EddieKrueger

    Happened to my girlfriend about 3 times in a single hour, then never again. She was using CM 6.x no a Sprint Hero. Single conversation, never left it. Doubt it was a UI issue… or touchscreen, since she never backed out of the conversation to begin with…

    • James

      So again you are citing someone ELSE having the issue rather than yourself. Hate to tell you but your GF IS fallible (as much as she’d like you to think otherwise). This is a non-issue. I text heavily from my Moto A855 and never had this issue.

  • bryan

    I agree, it seems like it is either user error it an issue facing only certain software builds on certain handsets. If it is a bug caused by a handset manufacturer rweaking the messaging app then google may noy be able to do anything about it, even if it is a real bug. I work for T-mobile and have not seen a single report of this issue.

  • Steve

    Happened to me once. I sent a message to someone and it went to someone else. If I looked at my messages it said that I sent it to the person I intended to, but they never got it.

    • http://Androidguys BrettFarve

      I can relate.

  • Matt

    Never had a problem with texts sending to the wrong contact.

    However, I did have other SMS-related issues. I would open the Messaging app and open the thread with Person X and instead it would open an older thread with person Y (way older, there is like 8 different threads between the two.

    • Matt

      Yes! The same happens to me about twice a week. Not a big deal but a minor glitch.

  • Jake

    I received a few from my brother. It turned out that it WAS user error on his part.

  • Lex

    I’ve never had this SMS issue, but I’ve had similar issues with the dialer.

    The first phone call I made was supposed to be to my dad. I looked him up in my contacts, long-pressed his name and dialed him from there. I was surprised to see that my phone decided to dial my mom instead. Different last names, separated by like 30 people in my contacts, yet it dialed her instead. This has happened once or twice more in the last 5-6 months.

    Every now and then I’ll go through my call history and try to return a call from there and I’ll notice that my touchscreen responds funny. I’ll click on an entry toward the top of the screen, but it will register on one toward the bottom and end up calling that contact instead.


    (LG Ally, btw)

  • wootroot

    A blog post with a title making a statement that does not exist and filled with a short story and opinions/ideas. Shouldn’t this have been “might not exist”? Or something along those lines?


    • wootroot

      *that it does not exist

      I accidentally a whole word lol

  • authorwjf

    Great job, Chuck. Way to help take some focus away from a real issue that I’ve been working like mad for the last six months to get Google to take a look at. Apparently not only can you not drive, but you don’t know much about technology either. Exactly what are your qualifications for blogging this issue doesn’t exist? Oh yeah, you own an Android phone, have not experienced the issue first hand, and have access to the Internet.

    I am a low-level software developer with 15 years under my belt. This problem is real, is related to the operating system messaging library itself, and is difficult to reproduce because it involves context switching and state restoration. Things you obviously know nothing about. I can say definitively that this is not a phone or carrier specific issue, though it does happen more often with newer phones, as they have faster processors. The SMS application that ships with the stock OS, does cause a lot of user errors, because the UI is poor and the way lists are reloaded is not ideal. But I have personally experienced this issue on multiple models of phones, using stock and third party SMS apps.

    Any readers of this blog who want to get a real idea what is going on should log into the Google forum and check out issue 9392, specifically comment 38. Its here that I tried hard to explain the seriousness of this bug and get the attention of the community behind it without diving too deep into the technical details. I suggest you take a look too, Chuck. Just because you can’t tell a brake pedal from an accelerator doesn’t make the rest of us bad drivers too.

    • Stewart

      If you are so smart and can so easily reproduce it, why haven’t you submitted a patch yet? Your post is full of technical falacies, which lends me to believe you are just blowing smoke.

      • Rich

        Agree completely with @Stewart – if you can reproduce it, why not send the stack to Google and help them out?

        @authorwjf – I read your comment 38: Very long, but it’s just a rant and doesn’t provide any actual useful information.

        All seems like FUD to me.

        • authorwjf

          You guys are missing the point. I don’t think this is easy to fix, or that I’m so smart. I have 3 development phones and if I direct messages from two of them at the third and actively try to respond to the incoming messages eventually this will happen. The point is that I have made some effort to verify its an actual issue, not just posted a blog that says it didn’t happen because I once pressed the gas on my car instead of the brake.

          I get paid to work on a specific device driver. This is my job. When there is a problem with it, I take it serious and make it right. Google seems to be doing that, now, and I have no doubt there will be a fix coming down the pipe. The issue here is that it took six months and all these stupid e-mails and articles to get them to take it serious and I don’t want to see Chuck or anyone else derail that momentum.

    • Cristian

      Very well said. Keep up the good work.,

  • mnguyea

    I’ve had two android phones…first mytouch and now nexus one and have never had this issue. I did send a txt to a wrong person once but that was user error of hitting the keys too fast. I’m sure if the was a true problem it would be much more wide spread. This is like the Guy who claimed his Droid exploded on him. People all just chime in just to chime in.

  • Minotaur

    If everyone kept up with new firmware it wouldn’t exist. I believe it is from user error
    from using buggy 3rd party apps and hacked up beta versions of Android etc.
    Like using CM on a SGS, it’s as buggy as hell CM is over rated. Go Doc! ;)

  • JCopernicus

    Are you seriously suggesting that because the cause might be user error, it doesn’t exist? What is wrong with you. As stated above there are WAY too many variables to be able to recreate this properly. I’m flabbergasted at the poor attempt to downplay a various serious bug that’s hard to reproduce.

    Note to android guys: stick to reporting factual news, reviews, and leave any kind of editorial pieces out, because the last couple posted up here(irrelevant or authors) have been HUGE stinkers.

  • Joel

    Sorry to rain on the parade. I have personally experienced this problem multiple times and it is beyond a doubt an error within the os. When viewing my conversation screen I will touch the topmost conversation to compose a message, only to realize that it in fact opened an entirely different conversation thread to a different contact. Now if the thread for that contact were in fact placed directly underneath the intended contact then I would be willing to believe it was user error. However it often sends me to a conversation which is very far down in the list, often far enough down that I would actually have to scroll down the screen to get to it.

    As I said I’ve experienced this bug multiple times and while I can’t reproduce it at will, I have on several occasions been paying extremely close attention when it occurred. This is not a user error. It occurs often enough that I am now in the habit of double checking which thread was opened every time I compose a message.

    • zaiger

      Yes but what he is saying is different. He is saying that people are saying that it is sending the message to someone else. I have the same issue that you are explaining, Droid 1 with Cyanogenmod 6.1.2, but I have never experienced the issue in the OP.

    • itrustme

      I co sign joel. Ive had that same problem on all my android phones. (mytouch,nexus one,vibrant,and g2)

  • Andrude

    2 different Android phones. 0 instances of this alleged behavior. MAYBE there is a CARRIER issue ?

  • Justin Palmer

    I’m afraid you’re mistaken on this one, it is happening.

    Can’t duplicate it, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

  • zaiger

    Sometimes when I try to open a conversation thread it will open a different thread, but I notice right away and back out and try again and it almost always brings me to the conversation I want to be in the second time around. I would say about 10-15% or the time, but that is just a ballpark figure.

  • AB

    I’ve faced this issue quite a few times. as recently as today. its definitely not a ‘user error’ . although, it happens only when there are multiple messages in my inbox from multiple people. its quite annoying really. always having to get replies saying ‘huh? was that message for me’ etc. Tsk! HTC wildfire user. don’t know if its an android issue or an HTC one. hope its fixed ASAP though.

  • Fred

    I have had this problem frequently. Have a Samsung Galaxy S I9000 that typically sends wrong every fifth time I send an SMS.

    I know several who have the same problem.

    So let us not be like the iPhone fanboys. We must accept there are bugs and they do not get solved. Samsung says it is a flaw in the Android and I get no response from Google. This is hopeless. This will be my last Android phone if no solution is coming soon.

    I usually send 50-60 text messages per day, but the more I realize that these are delivered to the wrong recipient, so I hardly dare not send any.

    • Iria

      Unlike the death grip issue with the iPhone 4 I’ve seen no videos of this. If you can reproduce it so easily, how about one?

      I’ve never seen this issue, but when using Flyscreen and trying to send an email for a story from one of the widgets I use (TechMeme), I’ve seen the email contact edit field lag so much I can see it being easy to click too fast and send to the wrong person (btw, that’s a custom email UI, so it’s not Google).

      I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but if it’s so easy, it would be great to see a video. Then we can all stop saying “nay.”

    • Tech-Ex

      Fred, if you can reproduce the issue and video it, upload it to YouTube, please, and let us know.

  • TurboFool

    I suspect you’re PARTIALLY correct, but in the same way that EVERYONE had unintended acceleration in the Prius after a few reports of a stuck accelerator, but careful review of the records showed the vast majority of the complaints were from elderly, inexperienced drivers, and people parking (all circumstances likely to cause pedal confusion). In this case there’s one factor you seem to be ignoring: for some people the text messages are showing up in the correct thread on the sender’s side, but being received by the wrong person. This clearly proves it’s not user error, as the phone’s not going to magically figure out after the fact who it was meant for and move it there while still having sent it to the wrong person. Still, I suspect the majority of the hubbub over the ones that don’t fit this description are people clinging to this so they can avoid being called out on their own mistakes.

  • Jonathan

    Let’s hope Google doesn’t take the stance that the Chuck did: “I’ve never seen it and its rare so must be user error”.

    I’m no idiot. I pressed the first thread on my SMS list, typed the message, hit sent. The message went to my sister in law which was 4 threads down.

    Ive experience this on 2 different devices (Hero & EVO) on 2 different ROMS (Stock HTC & Cyanogenmod 6.1) and 2 different apps (Handcent and GoSMS).

    My wife encountered the same thing on her EVO (Stock, non-rooted).

    There is a bug.

    • Rene

      “There is a bug.”

      We are talking about the default Android SMS apps, but you talk about experience with 2 different apps. Your reasoning is flawed, much like to orginal post explains:

      “But it took a while to get that through my head.”

  • Andromorph

    What’s still not clear to me is that the software sends the message to a completely different number OR the users find themselves in a different message thread after tapping the desired one? (and mistakenly reply to an unrelated thread)

    If it’s the latter it could be an interface bug. I’ve seen it in the Contacts manager and in the Manage Applications menu and it’s related to the large number of Contacts/Apps. The OS first loads the data and then a sorting method gets applied to the entries which causes some lag and sometimes I find myself in a wrong contact page or application property panel.

    If the OS sends the message to an unrelated person – well that is a major issue. In this case Android users better learn the way to be nice to everyone :)

  • SwissDroid

    I’m using Android phones since over 1.5 years. Two different models (HTC Magic, HTC Desire), four Android versions (1.5, 1.6, 2.0 and 2.2.) and wrote quite a number of messages, number of this bug: NEVER. None of my friends had it. But: The only times I noticed messages sent, that shouldn’t have been sent, was after I drunk too much… :-)

  • Gus

    Never happened to me, I have used the G1 for a year, the Nexus One for a year, and I just got my Nexus S, and I’m sure it won’t happen with it as well. I’m an average txter.

    I agree with Chuck this is most certainly a user problem that sites like Engadget are just promoting for a possibly hidden agenda? Conspiracy theory anyone :)

  • Dal

    Having Had Android devices since launch, I’ve gone through over 8 Android handsets. Some rooted. Some not. All variants of firmware. some on the same carrier, some different. Some running vanilla Android. Some running senseUI. Some running blur. Some running TouchWiz. Some running with a SnapDragon processor, some with a HummingBird.

    How many times have I had this issue?


    • Joel

      I’ve been going to the gas station for over 20 years. How many times have I been carjacked? Zero.
      Therefore it must not ever happen to anyone.

      • James

        However you confuse anecdotal evidence for actual evidence. If you were “carjacked” at the gas station – the station could replay the video and you’d see it. With this we just have (an inept) class of users screaming foul because they don’t know how to use their phone. Just for giggles – I’m going to switch back to the default app from ChompSMS for 2 weeks to see if I can get this issue to come up. I doubt it will – hasn’t ever since I bought my A855.

      • Dal

        Implying There is a bug would be a safe assumption that it will happen to everyone at least once.

        microsoft had a bug in the first release of windows XP. This bug caused an unmountable boot volume. MS found the bug, and patched it. Those that didn’t patch ALL had the problem, some sooner then others, but universally shared amongst those without the patch.

        The “carjacking must not exist” is the absolute worst analog I’ve ever heard. Operating Systems are built on a series of code which can have errors leading to a universal “bug”.
        Last time I checked, we are not living in the Matrix, so our ability to be human, and make the choice to carjack person A versus person B is just that. A choice, not a universally written defect which lies inside all of us.

        Learn a thing or 2 about programming AND proper use of analogies before you make such statements. I’d hate for you to improperly use another horrible analogy like that in real life. Just some advice which I’m sure you will take the wrong way though…

        • Joel

          So…..any response now?

  • Richard

    For me what happens is a combination of OS and user error, not quite what is being reported maybe…

    I’ve had this a few times on a stock Nexus One (always pre 2.2), and a friend has had it a few times on her stock Samsung Galaxy (pre 2.2). We’re both heavy SMS users, i.e. I have tens of threads with hundreds of messages in each. In a nutshell: it was opening up the wrong message thread from the “new message” in the notifications pulldown, and putting too much faith into the system I was already typing my reply and hitting send before noticing I was looking at another message thread, so the message ends up going to the wrong place.

    As an Android coder I could envisage how this sort of glitch may happen, but when something is this hard to reproduce it smells of a race condition which could be incredibly hard to find.

    I haven’t had it in a while, there have been 2 firmware updates since then and of course I learned to pay more attention pretty fast after sending messages to friends that were meant for my girlfriend.

  • Craig Danuloff

    You’re upset that people are claiming something they can’t prove, and with your headline and post you do the exact same thing! Your opinions are appreciated, but this hype and link-bait headline that the post content does not support or even suggest is terrible. Big bold headline, promising facts and information – whiny article full of your opinion just as unproven as those of the people you’re arguing against. The web is becoming a tougher place to navigate due to sensational headlines like this.

  • Peng Teets

    Yeah OK that sounded kind of far fetched to me dude.

  • Spode

    Although I agree – *so* many errors are human related, like my girlfriend suggesting her alarm was 12 hours out, when she probably set it to PM instead of AM.

    However, I’ve had this problem when inside one conversation, not switching around…

    Also – the reason this probably hasn’t been looked into deeply, is probably because they are assuming the same thing as you. I think anyone who goes out of their way to file a bug report about something, wouldn’t do so unless they were pretty certain about it.

  • Pete Austin

    re: “But the burden of proof is on those claiming a bug exists.”

    I really hope you are not a programmer. Personally I want to know about all bugs, proven or not, so I can see patterns. Also, UI issues are bugs too.

  • The_Omega_Man

    The first that I heard of this problem was on the iNgadget site last week. Not one of my Android toting friends or associates (across all domestic carriers) has indicated that they have experienced this alleged problem. That not to say that there is no possibility of this being a system bug, but it does not appear to be a widespread mass-effecting thing, like proximity sensors or dropped calls. I’m just saying.

  • yeaaa

    The problem I have is tht I click on a different conversation and a different one comes up. I know this is not just me failing to pick the right conversation cause I have been clicking on apparently and different apparently open? Bbv0.6.2

  • citoyenlambda

    Well if you have only guesses abstain from writing a useless article like that.

    Other people have facts.

  • Shane Goodine

    Please be considerate and at least update the blog post title. You are wrong.
    I’m a technical person and the problem is real. Folks have however, done a poor job of explaining the issue correctly / consistently…

    • Dirk

      So if its real. Please explain how to reproduce it.

  • Gubatron

    What I don’t understand is why people are still using SMS, when everybody has internet access on their phones, why can’t you just use Email, Facebook, Twitter… They’re free and a lot better.
    SMS takes ages (I often get SMS or have my SMS arriving after a few hours, the next day or never at all)

    Screw SMS.

  • Buttface

    The Guy is an idiot. Its happened to me awell. I have a nexus one.

  • Buttface

    It might just be a multitouch error.

  • Chris Tankersley

    I think this has more to do with buggy manufacturer software and user error than with Android itself. I’ve owned a Droid Eris from HTC and a Droid 2 Global from Motorola, as well as a Blackberry Curve and Droid through work.

    The stock Droid Eris (with 1.6 and the upgrade to 2) with Sense was horribly buggy on both mine and my wife’s phone. The dialer was slow and would cause misdials (I’d click her name, but the dialer was updating at the same time and the slot would end up being occupied by someone else). We did it all the time.

    I rooted my Eris and ran different roms without Sense. Completely cleared up the issue since the phone was then overclocked to 800mhz (which improved overall response from the phone) and removed Sense. My wife had problems up until we switched to Droid 2’s.

    One ‘bug’ I did see on the Eris (both of them) was then when I would have unread responses from multiple people, it got a little weird on who it would bring up. For example, if I got a message from Person A and just read it in the notification area, and then cleared it, when I got a message from Person B and clicked the message to open it, I would be taken tom Person A. Annoying, but as long as I looked at the screen I knew who I was talking too.

    With the Droid 2 I haven’t had any problems. With the Droid I didn’t either, and that one was more stock than the Droid 2.

    Contrast this with the Blackberry, where the interface just makes it horrible to keep up with multiple conversations in Pre-OS 5 versions (it’s an old BB). I’d mis-reply all the time, but that’s because the interface was bad.

  • pat

    I have this problem (Nexus one) and it happen before and after I had root. I could send pictures to non believers. On them you will see me going sorry wrong person. One to my sis and the other to my nephew.

  • Gary

    Lol even if they do fix it how do they intend to get it fixed? Sure they can update AOSP but there’s a lot of handsets out there, Android updates are always going to be difficult to get out especially to old/low end devices, ‘critical’ or not.

  • Sarkari Naukri

    May be multitouch error….. I think

  • motoxer

    I had this problem a few times but everytime it was my fault. I would be in the middle of 4 or 5 text conversations and send a message to the wrong person. The problem is the name is at the top and after a long conversation, its to easy to not scroll to the top to see it befor you send another reply.
    Ive certainly have had no issues with sending text to miscellaneous numbers that weren’t on my contact list.

  • bfr

    Actually, there was post at the xdadev how to reproduce this and it worked.

  • Andrew

    would be good if you could find this thread off xda? OP you also forgot that the message stays in the list and you can only tell that the message went to another person using the ‘message details’ screen.

  • jp

    I love your analogy to the issue with your car, and I think you hit the nail on the head. Here’s the issue I’ve been having with Android SMS on my Nexus One with stock Froyo:

    If I open the Messaging app and press someone’s name that I have texted before, it occasionally brings up a conversation with someone else. I’ve had this problem maybe a couple times a month for the year that I’ve owned it, and it has never caused me to send a text to the wrong recipient. I just hit the back button and choose the correct conversation.

    True, there are probably people out there who have done this without realizing it, and accosted their grandparents with accidental booty calls… But I have never once SENT a text went to the wrong recipient. I just look before I send.

    I think the panic was caused by the way the bug was presented, probably by someone who made such a mistake and couldn’t imagine the cause might be their own observational negligence. It’s a bug, yes, but not a very serious one.

    • HuhWhat?

      If you select one contact or a conversation thread and the OS returns a completely different one, that is absolutely a critical issue!!! “Just double check” is both obvious and condescending to people who expect their stuff to perform or are trying to raise technical awareness of the problem.

  • zebb

    This happens all the time on my Incredible, it will send messages to people I have never message before. I have to be very diligent now in looking to make sure the recipient is set to who its supposed to be.

    It’s not user error, unlike apparently your poor driving abilities.

  • /b/rotherJudas

    There is most definately a bug. I had it happen on multiple roms and configurations with mytouch 3g and mytouch 3g 1.2. I’ve also had it happen with mytouch 4g, but haven’t seen it since I ditched sense for cm7.

  • geeknik

    It has been upgraded to “Critical” now, so hopefully all of the interfacewebtube uproar will die down and we can read about something else. =)

  • nXt

    This sms bug is old, since the T-Mobile G1, it existed, read reports about it. No wonder why suddenly it’s a big deal.

    But anyways, it does exist. I had a Nexus One and it finally happened to me.
    I was txting 2 people at the same time. I wrote Person1 “Message5″. Person 2 responded asking me what “Message5″ was. I go look at the message thread and it shows me writting Person1 “Message5″ but nothing about it in the Person 2 thread. It was the weirdest thing.

  • Michael

    What a condescending ass! I’ve been texting on a wide variety of devices since the technology first became available. I’ve also had this bug happen to me several times. I have never experienced this problem with any other operating system. The worst part of the whole Internet blog system is the lack of professionalism. You probably see yourself as a “journalist”, just because you write. How utterly unprofessional that you would headline an article that this bug “doesn’t exist” because it hasn’t happened to you. What a joke. Don’t quit your day job.

    • JCopernicus

      If this is his dayjob, I say….quit your day job.

  • Elvis

    I’ve had it where when I click on someone to send a sms it will open the wrong person, but when I see it I can see it click somewhere else completely so to me that seems to be an obvious hardware issue and having a D1 that I’ve dropped plenty of times its no surprise here… I think its possible something similar may be happening to many (definately not all) so maybe simmering down a little and making sure the right conversation is open could solve some issues whether they be soft or hard issues

  • Not happy

    Right, no second hand comments here. I have an HTC Desire with 2.2.

    …and sending multiple sms to friends (in the UK and France), only to find that some SMS have ended up in Australia and the Philippines.

    This time round it was only a “Happy new year”, so my love spread beyond my expectations to the obvious amusement of my unknown recipients, but if I were to send my adress and the code for my door I would like that to arrive to the intended recipient, not somebody else.

    Google, this is a proper cockup, and a serious leak of personal information.