Supreme Court will hear Facebook robocalling case

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear Facebook’s defense after an appeals court determined it violated anti-robocalling rules. The court will examine whether Facebook’s automated alert texts count as an “automatic telephone dialing system,” establishing a clearer definition of illegal phone spam.

Facebook was sued in 2015 by non-Facebook user Noah Duguid, who complained that he’d been receiving unwanted text messages from the site. The alerts told Duguid that someone was trying to access his nonexistent Facebook account, and he couldn’t get Facebook to stop sending them. Duguid argued that Facebook had violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which is supposed to protect Americans from unwanted auto-dialed calls.

Facebook said the texts were sent by mistake, and it claimed its automated system was functionally similar to a standard smartphone, so a ruling against it could make ordinary phone calls illegal. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with this logic and said Facebook’s texts clearly fit the category of “automated, unsolicited, and unwanted” phone messages. The Supreme Court will settle the question for good.

This case will complement another recent Supreme Court robocalling decision. Earlier this week, the court overturned a legal exception for government debt collectors, sidestepping an attempt to strike down the prohibitions. Facebook raised a similar issue in its petition, but the court will focus instead on the definition question.

If Facebook ultimately loses its case, it could be required to pay damages to any user who received unwanted messages within a period of several years. The Supreme Court’s decision may also affect which automated calls are considered legal. But robocalls are surging regardless of the laws against them — so it might not make a huge difference to many people.