Many advocates are saying that Facebook’s win with the Supreme Court could wind up with millions of people being flooded with robocalls now. Most people’s phones get overloaded with spam texts, and this ruling could turn that up to unbearable levels.
The Supreme Court on Thursday sided with Facebook in a lawsuit over unwanted text notifications it sent, rejecting a claim that the messages violated the federal ban on robocalls.
Democratic lawmakers and consumer groups said the court opened a gaping hole in the law, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, that would subject anyone with a cellphone to endless automated calls and messages.
The case was brought by a man who received text messages from Facebook notifying him that an attempt had been made to log in to his account from a new device or browser. The man, Noah Duguid, said he never had a Facebook account and never gave Facebook his phone number. When he was unable to stop the notifications, he filed a class action lawsuit.
The 1991 consumer law bars abusive telemarketing practices. The law restricts calls made using an “automatic telephone dialing system,” a device that can “store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator” and then call that number.
The question for the court was whether the law covers equipment that can store and dial telephone numbers even if the equipment does not use a random or sequential number generator.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court that it does not.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in an emailed statement, “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.”
But Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., said in a joint statement that the court ignored Congress’ intent when it passed the law and now will allow “companies the ability to assault the public with a non-stop wave of unwanted calls and texts, around the clock.”
The lawmakers said they would introduce legislation to expressly prohibit Facebook’s practice.
“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 said.
Facebook had argued the lawsuit should be dismissed because Duguid had not claimed Facebook was sending messages that were randomly generated. Facebook said it sends targeted, individualized texts to numbers linked to specific accounts. A trial court agreed, but an appeals court reversed that decision.
Facebook said it was possible Duguid’s cellphone number previously belonged to a Facebook user who opted to receive login notifications.
The case is Facebook v. Duguid, 19-511.