SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) – Though a Michigan man received at least one unsolicited text message from a mobile app, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has absolved Life360's developer from liability under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
Back in February, according to the suit, the Life360 app sent the plaintiff, Terry Cour II, a message that read, "TJ, check this out! lf360.co/i/g2a5iJaTBOO5.” Cour asserted that he has never been a member of Life360 or had ever downloaded the app.
In court documents, he stated his belief that he received the unsolicited message because the app, upon installation, asks users if they'd like to see "others on your map?" For users who respond with "Yes," the app asks them for permission to their contacts list.
And for those who allow Life360 access to their contacts list, the app generates a list of "recommended" individuals that are pre-selected to receive invitations. All the user needs to do from there is tap the "Invite" button, according to the plaintiff.
The app never specifies how or when it'll send invites on behalf of the user, as Life360 has been given "full control over the content of the text message" and permission to decide whether or not it'll send an SMS message.
Ultimately, the court decided to dismiss the suit because it believed the plaintiff, who had hoped to represent anyone who has received a similar message from the app, failed to make a legitimate claim under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act..
The court's ruling is in the spirit of the TCPA, which targets unwanted and randomly generated solicitations via telecommunications, according to Arjun Rao, associate at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP.
"Over the years, the TCPA’s reach has grown, culminating in the present onslaught of litigation," Rao told Legal Newsline. "However, courts across the country have begun to properly dispose of actions challenging conduct that does not fall within the scope of the TCPA."
In this case, Life360 gave the user control over which contact would receive solicitations from the app. On top of that, it required the user to initiate the solicitations by tapping the "Invite" button, Rao noted.
The takeaway from this case for developers and other companies that provide similar services: make sure the user has as much control over initiating communications as possible, according to Rao.
In reaching its conclusion on the Glide app in the 2015 TCPA Omnibus Ruling, the Federal Communications Commission focused on what constituted an autodialer and how much of a role the user played in initiating unsolicited messages, Rao pointed out.
So developers have to make certain their apps "permit the user to have control over as many aspects as possible, including: providing the number to be messaged, deciding whether and when to send the message, selecting the recipients as well as the content of the message," Rao said.
As for users, it's best to take every precaution afforded by their device's privacy settings, according to Jill F. Cohen, a founding partner of D.C.-based Cohen & Cohen, P.C.
"Developers will likely continue to take advantage of this ruling," Cohen told Legal Newsline. "So they're fine."