Supreme Court sides with Facebook over unwanted text notification lawsuit

Photo (c) Bill Oxford - Getty Images

The plaintiff argued that Facebook’s messages were similar to illegal robocalls

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided in favor of Facebook in a lawsuit over unwanted text notifications the social platform sent. The ruling refutes a claim by the plaintiff, Noah Duguid, that the messages violated the federal ban on robocalls under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA).

Duguid tried to convince the Court that what Facebook was doing was similar to robocalls. He stated that Facebook essentially had the “capacity to dial numbers without human intervention.” Furthering his argument, he said that accepting Facebook’s interpretation would “unleash” a “torrent of robocalls.” However, SCOTUS judges weren’t buying what Duguid was pitching.

“To begin with, Duguid greatly overstates the effects of accepting Facebook’s interpretation. The statute separately prohibits calls using ‘an artificial or prerecorded voice’ to various types of phone lines, including home phones and cell phones, unless an exception applies,” the Court stated in its opinion.

The Court said its decision does not affect that prohibition and that Duguid’s quarrel is with Congress because legislators didn’t define an autodialer as “malleably” as he would have liked. 

Facebook is happy, but lawmakers aren’t

Facebook was happy about the ruling and what it means for its ability to continue sending notifications to users going forward. 

“As the Court recognized, the law’s provisions were never intended to prohibit companies from sending targeted security notifications, and the court’s decision will allow companies to continue working to keep the accounts of their users safe,” Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said in an emailed statement.

However, lawmakers were less than pleased by the decision. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MASS) and Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) called out the Supreme Court for misinterpreting the TCPA. 

They -- and 19 other lawmakers -- sensed that the Court might lean this way months ago and tried to convince officials to be as consumer-sensitive as possible. When their fears came true on Thursday, Markey and Eshoo castigated the Court for abandoning consumers and making it possible for a limitless number of new robocalls to enter people’s lives.

“Today, the Supreme Court tossed aside years of precedent, clear legislative history, and essential consumer protection to issue a ruling that is disastrous for everyone who has a mobile phone in the United States,” said the lawmakers in a joint statement. 

“It was clear when the TCPA was introduced that Congress wanted to ban dialing from a database. By narrowing the scope of the TCPA, the Court is allowing companies the ability to assault the public with a non-stop wave of unwanted calls and texts, around the clock.”

Legislation may be coming

Markey and Eshoo are not giving up on this issue. They say they’ll “act to make right what the Supreme Court got wrong” by introducing legislation to “amend the TCPA, fix the Court’s error, and protect consumers.”

“If the Justices find their private mobile phones ringing non-stop from now until our legislation becomes law, they’ll only have themselves to blame,” Markey and Eshoo added.

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