Twitter keeps sending texts to recycled phone numbers, lawsuit says

A consumer who was hit with unwanted messages wants to start a class-action case

Promotional texts and other messages from Twitter are fine if you consent to them, but some are going out to old phone numbers that have been around the block, according to a new lawsuit.

A Massachusetts woman alleges that the social network is sending unsolicited texts via SMS (Short Message Service) to recycled phone numbers. People who have never used Twitter or have not opted into receiving texts from the company are getting messages just because their number was previously used by someone who may have consented. She wants to turn her lawsuit into a class action for other consumers like her.

Around the time that Beverly Nunes, of Taunton, Massachusetts, got a new phone last November, she started getting promotional texts several times per day from "40404," a Twitter SMS short code, according to the complaint. "There's a new Swagcode out!" one message read, referring to virtual currency that could be redeemed for retail items or gift cards.

Nunes never had a Twitter account, according to the filing.

The suit, filed Thursday in federal court in San Francisco, may point to a larger issue as Internet companies try to grow their businesses using mobile messaging. Twitter makes the bulk of its advertising revenue from mobile devices, and the company is pushing hard to get more mobile users.

The suit claims Twitter automatically sends unsolicited messages to people without verifying that they have actually opted into the messages. "Twitter simply treats the new recycled cellular telephone number owner as if he or she were the previous owner," it says.

The suit also alleges that Twitter sends SMS texts to people who have expressly opted out of receiving them.

Those practices, the suit alleges, violate the U.S. Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits companies from sending automated texts to mobile phones without first receiving permission. Depending on what data plan they have, consumers may have to pay for those unwanted texts.

The suit seeks US$500 in damages for each violation of the TCPA.

John Jacobs, the lead attorney for Nunes, said the claims laid out in the suit are a substantial problem within the tech industry that would not be hard to fix. Companies such as Infutor and NextMark can identify disconnected telephone numbers before they're recycled, but Twitter does not use their services, according to the filing.

Nunes, the plaintiff, could not be immediately reached for comment. Twitter did not immediately respond to comment.

But Mike Mothner, founder and CEO at Wpromote, a digital marketing agency, said the blame belongs to both the carrier and the Internet company. "The carrier shouldn't sell consumers' numbers -- that's an issue of privacy and customer service," he said.

Twitter can capture people's cellphone numbers under a variety of circumstances. People can sign up for the service via SMS, and tweet via text message. Twitter also offers two-factor login using cellphone numbers.

In 2010 Twitter acquired Cloudhopper to scale its SMS service by connecting directly to mobile carrier networks.

Nunes may not have a case against Twitter. Yahoo was hit with a similar suit last year, but a judge recently threw it out on the grounds that Yahoo didn't use an automated redialer to transmit its text messages.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

Tags advertisingInternet-based applications and serviceslegalCivil lawsuitssmartphonestwittersocial networkinginternetsocial mediamobilemobile applicationsconsumer electronics

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