My guess is that many of us had a "friendly" spam message interrupt your Labor Day festivities. In between flipping burgers you heard your phone chime that you got a text message. You put down the spatula, rush over to pick up the phone and immediately migrate to the SMS inbox to make sure that your guests are on time or that your wife and kids are ok. Instead you see an unasked for spam telling you about some crummy special sale for Labor Day, some prize you can win or some deal only for you and 10,000 others. You delete it, put down the phone and get bag to your burgers, some of which are now burnt. You curse the test message intrusion but do nothing about it. Hold on, you can and should do your part to stop text spam.
Most unauthorized spam is illegal. Unlike email spam, however, you can do something about text spam. Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) you are entitled to damages of $500.00 per spam text message that was auto dialed without your consent.
Here is how it works: The TCPA is a Federal Law designed to protect consumers from marketing and debt collecting abuses over the telephone. The act governs not only cellular phone calls but also cellular text messages including SMS messages. Under the TCPA, unless a consumer specifically consents to getting text messages (consent must be authorized explicitly and is best done as a written opt in program), they may not be sent automatic dialed text messages. Only auto dialed messages are against the law in order to prevent mass text spam abuse. The point is that if a business wants to take the time to manually dial its customers, that is not likely to be overly intrusive and more likely to have a legitimate direct business purpose, hence, it is not illegal. Automatically dialed messages, however, can be mass cast to millions at little to not cost to the sender but at huge cost to the consumers getting the spam text. These spam text are generally shot gun ads that intrude on many but serve few.
The TCPA is designed to stop the mass text spam. It does so with a $500.00 penalty per illegal text message. If you get an autodialed, unauthorized text message you are entitled to $500.00 per message.
Text messaging is huge now and getting bigger every day. According to Wikipedia, in 2010, 6.1 trillion SMS text messages were sent, averaging 193,000 such messages every second. Of course, it is now a huge commercial service with SMS fees alone generating $114.6 billion globally in 2010. The problem, however, is that SMS and other text message services are generally not free. The worldwide average cost for each SMS message is $0.11. When advertisers plug their products without permission over text messaging services they do so at little cost to them but the consumer (or business that owns the phone) pays for the text message. Many advertisers will claim that because often unlimited or bulk text messaging is purchased that the some consumers pay nothing for the text message. Not true. Not only do consumers and businesses pay in lost productivity, wasted time and distraction from spam text, there is a cost for each text message, even on an unlimited text plan. As we all know, nothing is free. Unlimited texting plans cost money just as per text plans do. The difference is that they charge in bulk instead of per text. So if our text messaging usage increases substantially due to marketing spam via text then the wireless carriers costs will increase, demand for the text services will increase and the costs will eventually be passed on to consumers. The TCPA outlaws junk faxes for much the same reason, auto dialed fax spam costs the sender very little but the consumer pays in ink, paper, phone time, and more importantly, wasted time and attention.
The best part about the TCPA and the $500.00 per text penalty is that it works! Like the junk fax penalties that have kept your fax machine operating free from most junk faxes, the text message inboxes of most consumers are relatively spam free. Compare that to your email inbox. Likely you got dozens of email spam this week. The TCPA keeps your text inbox either clean or full of messages that come with a $500.00 reward if you care to take action about them. Many times mass text abuse cases can be pursued as a class action to enable abusers to be brought to justice for all the illegal texts without courts being clogged up with millions of individual lawsuits alleging $500.00 violations.
Most businesses are careful not to break the law. But there are always cheats out there. the ones who think they can get away with it or who just do not care what the law is, they want the sale. Today, Labor Day, is one of those holidays that text spammers may be tempted to send out a spam ad to customers via text and in turn they will interrupt family fun and precious holiday time and cost you money. If they interrupt yours, maybe you should ask them to pay you the $500.00 per auto dialed text message that they now owe you.
We cannot protect our lives from everything we can do something about nuisance text messages. Act now to STOP text abuse!