Web Companies Bash Robo-Texting Law

Tech companies are increasingly getting hit with class-action complaints for sending text messages to consumers, according to the trade group Internet Association.

The organization, made up of Google, Facebook, eBay and other large Web companies, made that statement in a regulatory filing summarizing a recent meeting between Internet Association officials and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai.

The Silicon Valley trade group writes that it "fully supports" the intent behind the Telephone Consumer Protection Act -- a federal law that prohibits companies from using autodialers to send text messages to people's cell phones without their permission.

"However," the Internet Association adds, its members "increasingly are subject to TCPA class action lawsuits in contexts where companies are sending wanted communications to consumers."

That statement appears to refer to lawsuits brought on behalf of people who are using recycled phone numbers. In those cases, the person who first used the phone number may have welcomed the texts, but the current users of those phone numbers view the messages as a nuisance at best.

For instance, Philadelphia resident Bill Dominguez allegedly received 27,000 text alerts from Yahoo -- all of which were meant for the phone's prior owner, who apparently had signed up for a former Yahoo service that converted emails to text messages and sent them to users' phones. Dominguez alleged in a lawsuit that he complained about the messages to Yahoo, but was informed that only the phone's former owner could arrange to stop the texts.

Dominguez also said he doesn't know the former owner or how to contact that person. When Dominguez threatened to resort to litigation, a Yahoo supervisor allegedly replied, “So sue me.”

Facebook is currently facing a lawsuit by Washington, D.C. resident Christine Holt, who said she was bombarded with SMS messages from the company after obtaining a recycled phone number. Twitter was also hit with a class-action complaint for allegedly sending text messages to recycled phone numbers.  

Two years ago, the FCC tightened the robotexting law by issuing new regulations, including one that prohibits companies from sending more than one autodialed text (or make one robocall) to a reassigned number -- even if the original owner consented to receive texts.

The debt collection association ACA International, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others have asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the new regulations. That request is backed by the Internet Association, which argued in a friend-of-the-court brief that the one-call limit for reassigned numbers isn't workable, given estimates that 100,000 cell phone numbers are reassigned to new users daily.

"Companies who have received consent to communicate with their users or customers ... may potentially be racking up significant statutory liability without even knowing it," the Internet Association argued in its court papers.

The group said this week that it "will seek to engage with the FCC on this important issue," if the appellate court reverses the recent regulations.

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