Google Sued For Group-Texting Service

by , Jun 2, 2011, 5:52 PM
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Google and its recently acquired social apps company Slide have been hit with a potential class-action lawsuit for allegedly sending SMS messages without first obtaining recipients' consent.

In court papers filed late last week, Florida resident Bret Lusskin, Jr. alleges that he received more than 105 SMS messages on one day in April through Disco.com -- a group-texting platform developed by Slide that allows people to send texts to 99 group members at once. When one recipient replies, the response is sent to everyone in the group.

"The resulting chat room can be a chaotic storm of text messages in which people are attempting to figure out what the group is, who the creator is, how they were put in the group, and how to stop it," Lusskin alleges in the complaint, brought in federal court in the Northern District of California.

He adds that the influx of messages "became so overwhelming that it effectively 'jammed' [his] cell phone, rendering it completely inoperable until the flow of messages subsided."

Lusskin also alleges that the introductory message contained an ad for Disco, which informed people that they could avoid text-message charges and chat for free by downloading an app.

Lusskin's attorney, Jay Edelson, says that for Lusskin and others to receive messages, they gave their phone numbers to an employee of a bar, which then began promoting events through group text messages.

While the service allowed message recipients to opt out, Edelson says that Google's Disco service should instead operate in an opt-in basis. He says it should be revamped so that one person can no longer add other users to a group simply by inputting their phone numbers.

The lawsuit alleges that Disco currently violates the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits companies from using automatic telephone dialing systems to make calls to cell phones unless the owners have consented. A federal appellate court in California ruled two years ago that the law applies to SMS messages.

It's not clear whether Google has a defense to the lawsuit under the federal Communications Decency Act, which broadly provides that platforms are not liable when users violate the law. If the Communications Decency Act applies to text-messaging platforms, people who send SMS ads to groups without permission might face liability, but Google and Slide would be immune.

But Edelson argues that even if federal law protects Google from liability for the messages created by individuals, the company should still be liable for any messages that advertised the Disco app.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the case except to say that the company had not yet been served with the complaint.

Edelson's law firm also filed a similar lawsuit against a different group text messaging company, GroupMe. That case, also brought late last week in the Northern District of California, was filed on behalf of Virginia resident Brian Glauser.

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