Facebook Gets Favorable Ruling From Supreme Court in Robocall Case

Facebook's text alerts don't violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the Supreme Court rules.
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The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday that automated text alerts from Facebook  (FB) - Get Report automated text didn't violate the ban on robocalls.

The high court ruled that the social media giant's system for texting users about unauthorized logins to their social media accounts didn't violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which Congress passed in 1991 to restrict telemarketing.

The ruling concluded that, unlike Facebook's system, an "automatic telephone dialing system" has the capacity to "store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential generator," and to dial those numbers. 

"In sum, Congress’ definition of an autodialer requires that in all cases, whether storing or producing numbers to be called, the equipment in question must use a random or sequential number generator," said Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote the court's opinion. "This definition excludes equipment like Facebook’s login notification system, which does not use such technology."

Facebook's general counsel, Jennifer Newstead, said in a statement the court's decision affirmed that the company complies with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

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The decision overruled the the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

"Expanding the definition of an autodialer to encompass any equipment that merely stores and dials telephone numbers would take a chainsaw to these nuanced problems when Congress meant to use a scalpel," Sotomayor said.

Noah Duguid had brought the lawsuit because Facebook sent him numerous automatic text messages without his consent. 

Duguid did not use Facebook, yet for about 10 months the company repeatedly alerted him by text message that someone was attempting to access his nonexistent Facebook account.

Facebook said Duguid likely had a recycled number associated with another user.

"Duguid’s quarrel is with Congress, which did not define an autodialer as malleably as he would have liked," Sotomayor said.

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The company appealed to the Supreme Court after the California-based 9th Circuit sided with Duguid in 2019.

"Obviously we're disappointed," said Sergei Lemberg, Duguid's attorney. "I think it's must unfortunate for consumers and every person who has a cell phone." 

Lemberg said he was surprised at the unanimous ruling, as "three circuits ruled in favor of essentially our position."

"I thought this would've been a close call," he said.

Lemberg said that he "was not ready to bury this one," adding that if congress isn't ready to address the issue, state officials might.

"The association of states attorneys general supported our position," he said. "So what does that mean? That means they're getting a ton of complaints about robocalls. There will be a lot of pressure at the state level."

Facebook shares finished up 1.4% to $298.66 on Thursday.

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