Let’s get one thing straight: Facebook is no stranger to lawsuits. In the last few months alone, the company has faced legal action over minors’ use of credit cards, alleged invasions of privacy and collusion with the NSA, and now – following the filing of a new suit in California federal court – accusations that the social media giant has sent spam text messages to users.
The suit, filed on Tuesday, alleges that many Facebook users have received text messages alerting them when someone logs into their account – despite the fact they never signed up for (or gave permission for) the extra security feature. Plaintiff Noah Duguid says this violates the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, a recently beefed up federal law that prohibits automated calls or texts without express, written consent. Fines for TCPA violations are steep, and the proposed class action is seeking more than $5 million in damages.
So, what’s going on? Receiving text messages from Facebook certainly isn’t standard. In fact, users are supposed to be able to receive the log-in texts only if they’ve elected to activate the special feature. We all have different security and privacy preferences, and it seems reasonable that Facebook would offer this service for those who want it. The problem, the lawsuit says, is that there are plenty of people who don’t want it, never signed up for it, but find themselves receiving texts from Facebook – even, crucially, after they’ve asked the company to stop.
The suit also alleges that some people are receiving messages despite not having a Facebook account. There’s a head-scratcher, to be sure.
Facebook does currently provide instructions on how to deactivate log-in notifications, but the system allows only users to change their account settings, with no mention of what to do if you don’t have an account to edit. This, Duguid says, is a clear violation of privacy with no clear fix.
“Facebook operates a sloppy system and in doing so shows complete disregard for the privacy of consumers.”
It’s easy to understand the frustration of receiving text messages even after, as Duguid claims, he followed Facebook’s instructions and replied to a message with “off” – a command he was told would stop any more automated texts. According to the proposed class action, Duguid continued to receive more log-in notification messages and was unable to contact a Facebook employee to complain.
The suit is seeking to represent a class of individuals in the United States who didn’t give Facebook their personal cell number, but received one or more notification text message, as well as a class of individuals who did give their number to Facebook, but asked not to receive any messages. The suit’s seeking at least $500 in damages per TCPA violation. That might not seem like much, but multiply it by the number of text messages allegedly sent, and soon the numbers start to add up.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – social media and the digital revolution have been good and bad for consumers. Social media allows us to stay connected with friends and family, but also allows companies to connect with – and at times, intrude upon – our lives. Lines – legal and cultural – must be drawn, and lawsuits like this are important reminders to companies like Facebook that if they’ve been entrusted with e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers, the burden of responsibility is on them to use the information only as their users permit.