April 1, 2021, the Supreme Court set forth a ruling in Facebook, Inc. v. Druid that shifts things up for companies required to be in compliance with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), a federal statute restricting, among other things, certain communications by way of “automated telephone dialing systems” or “autodialers.”
Although the unanimous decision was delivered by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on the 1st of April, this ruling is no joke.
Facebook, Inc. (“Facebook”), implemented a security feature for its social media platform allowing users to elect to receive text messages notifying the user of potentially fraudulent behavior on the user’s account. Many of us have received these notifications from software platforms in one way or another—“We noticed your account, XXXXXXX, was just used to sign in on a new device. Was this you?”
Noah Duguid received a similar text message from Facebook alerting him to login activity on a Facebook account linked to his telephone number. However, Duguid did not have a Facebook account. After several unsuccessful attempts to stop the text messages, he eventually brought a putative class action against Facebook alleging “that Facebook violated the TCPA by maintaining a database that stored phone numbers and programming its equipment to send automated text messages.” Facebook argued that the TCPA does not apply because the technology it used to text Duguid did not use a “random or sequential number generator.”
The Court agreed with Facebook’s argument, holding the TCPA did not prohibit Facebook’s automated notification system in this case. The Court held that a necessary feature of an “autodialer” as is prohibited under the TCPA “is the capacity to use a random or sequential number generator to either store or produce phone numbers to be called.”
In rendering its statutory interpretation, the Court looked to Congress’s original intent behind drafting and passing the TCPA. "Congress found autodialer technology harmful because autodialers can dial emergency lines randomly or tie up all of the sequentially numbered phone lines at a single entity. Facebook's interpretation of [the TCPA] better matches the scope of the TCPA to these specific concerns. Duguid's interpretation, on the other hand, would encompass any equipment that stores and dials telephone numbers" including “virtually all modern cell phones."
It is unclear whether Congress will react in kind and amend the TCPA to again cover autodialers like those used by Facebook in this case. In the meantime, the effect of this decision is profound. For companies using, or looking to implement, automated notifications made via automated telephone dialing systems, compliance with the TCPA just became greatly less onerous.