The Supreme Court says Facebook SMS alerts are not illegal robocalls

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The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that SMS alerts on Facebook do not violate laws against unwanted auto-dialed calls. The court found that a lower court defined illegal “robocalls” too broadly and that the term should only apply to systems that generate lists of numbers and call them haphazardly, not to a system that only stores numbers and calls them automatically.

The lawsuit concerns text messages that notify Facebook users of a login attempt. The plaintiff, Noah Duguid, sued after receiving unwanted false reports despite not having a Facebook account. Duguid argued that Facebook was in violation of the Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA). An appeals court agreed, but the Supreme Court interpreted the law’s definitions differently.

Carefully dissecting the grammar of the TCPA, the court concluded that an illegal auto-dialing system “must use a random or consecutive number generator,” and this definition “excludes equipment such as Facebook’s notification system that does not use such technology.”

Facebook argued that the earlier court decision could have defined basic smartphone functions as illegal auto dialers. The Supreme Court agreed. “Duguid’s interpretation of an auto dialer would capture virtually all modern cell phones,” the opinion said. While robocalls are a huge problem on US telephone networks, it says, “Extending the definition of an auto dialer to any equipment that only stores and dials phone numbers would require a chainsaw to solve these nuanced problems.” So it opts for a much narrower definition – both for Facebook and any similar future system.