When you use a group texting mobile service like GroupMe or Google Disco, you receive messages from friends.Usually, these messages aren’t considered spam.
But if you never agreed to receive the texts in the first place, then it’s a problem.
Florida resident Bret Lusskin alleges he was bothered by more than 105 unwanted texts sent via Google Disco. He was never asked if he’d like to receive the messages, nor were the friends who sent them required to ask his permission. He received so many messages that his phone became “completely inoperable.”
On May 27, 2011, Lusskin and Chicago-based law firm Edelson McGuire filed a suit against Google and Slide, the makers of Disco.
We should note, Edelson McGuire has a history of filing “petty law suits” against companies with deep pockets. It has filed more 40+ suits against companies like Google and Zynga on behalf of “the little guy.” The suits often end in a modest settlement.
But in this latest case, Edelson McGuire claims Disco violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which says companies can not use automatic dialling systems to make calls to cell phones without a user’s consent. Text messages are included in the act.
Lusskin and his attorneys are asking for an injunction that will require the group-messaging service to cease sending spam and award “statutory damages to the class members, together with costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.”
The minimum fee, according to the filing, is $500 in damages for each sent text message. That adds up pretty quickly. For Lusskin alone, that’s $52,500 for the 105 texts, lawyer fees aside.
Since it’s a class action suit, other people who were violated can also claim money from Google if the court sides in their favour.
GroupMe and Twilio were not included in Lusskin’s lawsuit, but Edelson McGuire filed an additional suit that holds them at fault for mobile spam. The plaintiff, Virgina resident Brian Glauser, alleges that GroupMe and Twilio violated the TCPA for sending “text messages to consumers who did not want them.”
“On April 23, 2011, Plaintiff’s cell phone rang, indicating that a text call was being received…provided by Twilio to GroupMe,” the filing states.
“Hi Brian Glauser, it’s [group creator]. Welcome to GroupMe! I just added you to “Poker” w/ [group member], [groupmember], [groupmember], [groupmember], [groupmember], [groupmember]& 3 more. Text back to join the conversation,” it read.
Eight other text messages followed before Glauser could accept or opt out. Finally, do to inactivity, GroupMe sent a message that said, “We haven’t heard from you, so we removed you from this group to be on the safe side.”
It looks like their move wasn’t safe enough. Now GroupMe and Twilio face up to $500 in damages per unwelcome message.
Right now, GroupMe’s best defence may be the Communications Decency Act, which protects providers from liability as the publisher of unwanted information, as long as the information is provided by another platform (like Twilio).
GroupMe opted not to comment for this story.
For Google, this is just an expensive thorn in its side. But for year-old GroupMe it could mean serious trouble. According to the filing, the amount at stake for each company exceeds $5,000,000.
“This is a company-killing lawsuit,” says a source familiar with the group-texting space.
It’s a good thing GroupMe raised $10 million last year, it may need every penny to reach a settlement.
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