Prop 1 text messages: Illegal or just annoying?

An Austin woman is suing Uber, claiming texts they have sent to customers encouraging them to vote violates the Telephone Consumer Protection Act -- which bans robo-calls. (Photo: / MGN)

Saturday voters head to the polls to make a decision on Proposition 1. Some voters say Uber and Lyft's campaign is starting to turn people off. Dozens of mailers are coming to Austin residents' homes and text messages to their cell phones. Wednesday, a class action lawsuit against Uber claims those texts aren't just annoying but against the law.

"I was less inclined to support Prop 1 after the text message for sure," says Austin voter Chris Jordan. Jordan hasn't used Uber in about a year. He deleted the app and was surprised to hear from them.

"I think there's a lot of people that have been kind of turned off by the marketing and flyers and insane amount of money that's been poured into this debate," Jordan adds.

The lawsuit filed against Uber says the text messages go too far. It says robo-texting thousands of Uber users in Austin violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The TCPA is meant to protect people from unwanted robo-calls and messages.

"Marketers and folks that are involved in communication campaigns can sometimes push the limits," says Jay Pinkert, Principal at Tenacious Marketing and Communications. Pinkert is well versed in the TCPA. He says, this case comes down to two issues:

  • The nature of the messages
  • Interpreting Uber's terms and conditions -- did they have consumers' consent to send these messages?

"I expect that the case is being made that the user agreement does not satisfy the prior express consent requirement," says Pinkert. Though he adds, the terms could be a moot point if it's decided the message is purely political and not subject to TCPA regulations at all.

Uber's Terms and Conditions state that the company can, "Send you communications we think will be of interest to you, including info about products, services, news and events of Uber and other companies where permissible and according to local applicable laws."

The lawsuit argues the text messages are coming from an auto dialer -- not a live person. When you call the number back, you get an automated recording stating, "We're sorry. An application error has occurred. Goodbye."

In a world of mass media and constant communication, other voters didn't think twice about the messages.

"I just read it and didn't think much of it and just deleted it afterwards. It didn't bother me," says Kathy Cantu, who isn't voting in the election.

Uber said in a statement:

"We have taken great precaution to comply with applicable laws and believe the claims in this lawsuit are meritless. The announcement of this action at an anti-Prop 1 press conference also reveals how it was designed to unduly influence the election."

A similar suit was filed against them last year in New York when Uber also sent out text messages as part of a political campaign.

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