The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Facebook’s favor last week in a lawsuit over spam texts 📝 it reportedly sent to a non-Facebook user. The high court rejected a claim that the messages violated federal anti-robocall rules.
Robocalls and texting campaigns have been a hot topic 🔥 in recent years, so it’s not really a surprise that someone sued Facebook for spam messages. Here’s everything we know about the lawsuit and why the Supreme Court decided to side with Facebook.
What Is the Facebook Lawsuit About?
The lawsuit against Facebook was initially filed in 2015 by Noah Duguid. He reportedly received text messages from Facebook notifying him that an attempt had been made to log into his account 🕵️ from a new device or browser. Duguid claims he never had a Facebook account and never gave the company his phone number.
When he was unable to get Facebook to stop sending him the alerts, Duguid filed a class-action lawsuit. He claimed the spam texts he received from Facebook violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which was passed by Congress in 1991 to curb abusive telemarketing practices. The law restricts calls made using an “automatic telephone dialing system,” which is essentially a ban 🛑 on robocalls. Duguid’s suit claimed the automated texts he received are akin to the autodialer systems used by robocallers.
Facebook said it sent the texts by mistake. Duguid most likely had a phone number that was used by a Facebook user who had opted to receive alerts. It argued its automated text system is similar to a standard cellphone, so a ruling against it could potentially make ordinary phone calls illegal.
A federal judge threw out the lawsuit, but it was revived by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court took a broad view of the law and disagreed with Facebook’s logic. It ruled in Duguid’s favor and said the texts clearly fit the category of “automated, unsolicited, and unwanted” phone messages.
But that’s not where the story ends. The case was moved to the Supreme Court, which was meant to settle the question for good. The high court had to decide whether Facebook’s non-consensual texts fit with the technical definition of the TCPA, which was passed before smartphones were even a thing. In a 9-0 decision written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the justices sided with Facebook and said the company did not ✅ violate the 1991 federal law.
Congressional Feathers Are Ruffled
Some members of Congress were displeased with the ruling, stating the case highlighted the folly of applying outdated laws to modern technologies. A group of lawmakers have called for an update of the law, which is literally 30 years old at this point, to include a ban on most unauthorized robocalls and texts.
“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,” Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass) and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (CA-18) said 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.”
Before the Supreme Court made their ruling, Markey and Eshoo led other members of Congress in submitting an amicus brief 📜 urging the Supreme Court to uphold the 9th Circuit’s decision in Duguid’s case. 19 members of Congress signed the brief, showing their support for meaningful change. However, it seems the Supreme Court does not share their concerns.
What Does This Mean for Robocalls and Spam Texts?
Not much. If Duguid had won his claim against Facebook, the tech titan would have been required to pay damages 💵 to any user who received unwanted messages. The Supreme Court’s decision would have also affected which types of automated calls and texts are considered legal.
After the decision was announced, Facebook released a statement saying:
“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.”
Robocalls have been surging regardless of the existence of decades-old laws banning them. According to the Federal Communications Commission, more than half of all calls placed in 2019 are believed to have been robocalls.
The success of Duguid’s lawsuit in the Supreme Court would probably not have made a huge difference to many people. It’s just another addition on top of the mountain ⛰️ of lawsuits filed against Facebook in recent years.