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Did Yahoo Cross the Line with SMS Spam?

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As one of the biggest names in the digital world, it’s hard to imagine a tech giant like Yahoo ending up on the wrong side of the law. However, after facing a reversed decision from a three judge panel in the United States 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, this leader in email, SMS, and other virtual services currently finds itself in plenty of legal hot water. To bring you up to speed with the particulars of this case, as well as provide insight into ways your own brand can avoid facing the same backlash, here’s an in-depth look at how Yahoo potentially crossed the line via unintentional spam practices.

Breaking down the Law Suit

According to Media Post’s Wendy Davis, the story starts back in late 2014 when Philadelphia resident Bill Dominguez alleged that Yahoo sent him over 27,000 unwanted text alerts. Dominguez – who purchased a mobile phone secondhand – claims that these alerts consistently disrupted his daily life over the course of several months, despite his repeated requests for the services to cease and desist.

Complicating the matter even further is the fact that these SMS messages weren’t actually meant for Dominguez in the first place. The phone’s previous owner had apparently signed up for a now defunct Yahoo service that converted emails into mobile messages and failed to cancel this arrangement before selling his or her phone.

Without a way to contact the phone’s previous owner, Yahoo states that it was unable to obtain the proper authorization to halt this service. Additionally, Yahoo’s attorney noted in the initial hearing regarding this case that the company had not anticipated members of this program to change mobile numbers without informing the organization.

A History of Spam Issues

Unfortunately for Yahoo, this isn’t the first time that they’ve ended up having a day in court thanks to some less than stellar SMS practices. As Kira Lerner of Law 360 notes in a look at this company’s legal history with spam issues, a 2013 case against Yahoo shows that other plaintiffs have had issues with unwanted and unsolicited text alerts and messages.

Specifically, Rafael Sherman sued Yahoo in 2013, alleging that the digital powerhouse sent notifications related to its online instant messenger service to his phone. The only problem is that Sherman claims to have never signed up for an instant messenger account in the first place.

With both of these cases still outstanding, it’s hard to tell what the future holds for Yahoo in terms of SMS services and compliance. However, it is safe to say that the current position of this brand in the text and mobile world is anything but enviable at this point in time.

Avoiding the Same Fate for Your Brand

Although these types of text spam complaints aren’t what we’ve come to expect when it comes to running afoul of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), and other regulatory bodies, there’s still plenty of lessons to be learned as your organization tries to avoid facing the same legal issues as Yahoo.

To start, having updated and easily accessed unsubscribe features is a must if you plan on interacting with customers via SMS offerings. The last thing you want to do is stir up a bevy of complaints – and potential fines – from viewers who want to opt out of your text messaging program, but find the process complex or unintuitive. Simply put, “short,” “simple,” “easy,” and “fast” are the words that you want to describe your opt out process.

As far as bringing new customers into the fold, if you don’t have express consent from these users, then you could potentially find yourself in a noncompliant position. Express consent comes from having a documented agreement to opt-in from your new contact list member, as well as ensuring that the services and content offered by your brand are clearly stated during the sign-up process. It might seem like a lot of work initially, but you’re much better off laying out every little detail now and guaranteeing that nothing is left to chance or interpretation on the end user side of things.

If you’re able to hone in on these features and functionality – as well as handle any unusual or extreme corner cases like the ones listed above in an expedient and satisfactory manner – then you’re well on your way to tapping into the copious amounts of value found within the world of SMS marketing; all while avoiding the pitfalls experienced by Yahoo and other brands that failed to play by the rules.

About Victor Green

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