Text Message Laws and Regulations

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Who regulates text messages? What are the regulations governing compliance for text message marketing? Learn more about laws for text messaging and SMS.

Compliance is the million dollar word when it comes to the laws governing text marketing. We’ve already shared with you an in-depth piece explaining everything you need to know about compliance. Today, our goal is to educate you on the existing laws specific to text marketing/telecommunications.

Our team works diligently to prevent bad apples from sending text message spam out into the world. The safeguards we institute are intended to protect both consumers and the honest businesses who are following the rules.

Our goal at SimpleTexting is to make understanding text message laws easy. We do that in part by sending out a free best practice compliance message for you. And for all you straight-A students who want to learn a little more, we’ll break down all the laws and regulations that must be followed in order to legally text your subscribers.

What is the TCPA?

To prevent upset customers and potential legal action, businesses need to comply with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), among other regulations, to ensure consumer protections when it comes to text marketing.

Who Regulates Texts?

There are a few layers of regulation governing text message marketing. Explore each one in descending authority.

  • Federal/Industry Regulators: These are the lawmakers who put forth the rules every subsequent party in the chain must follow. They include…
    • Federal Communications Commission (FCC): The FCC regulates all media communications in the U.S. You mostly know them from setting TV ratings. They maintain integrity in the industry, like parental guides for business.
    • Federal Trade Commission (FTC): The enforcers. The FTC collects complaints about businesses theft, deception, and violence through the media. They’re the ones who crack down on businesses who use text to scam people.
    • Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA): This is the actual legislation that was passed in 1991 with the rules surrounding regulates telemarketing calls, auto-dialed calls, prerecorded calls, text messages, and unsolicited faxes. They’re known for their greatest hit: “the do not call list”. We’ll go into them in greater detail a little bit later.
    • Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA): This trade group is how telecommunications moguls get a seat at the table from a legislative standpoint. This group represents the interests of the wireless industry.
    • Mobile Marketing Association (MMA): Similar to the CTIA, this nonprofit advocates for mobile marketing companies (like us). Their goal is to help create responsible growth in the world of wireless media.
  • Mobile Carriers: Without them, texting wouldn’t exist. With that power comes some say over how some texts are sent. For example, AT&T has recently made the decision to not allow messaging from shared short codes to their customers. This has forced messaging providers to shift their attention towards text enabling land lines and other toll free numbers.
  • Messaging Providers: We’re the groups who make text marketing possible. At SimpleTexting we take our compliance very seriously. We constantly monitor accounts for suspicious activity and take an active role in cutting down on deceptive business practices.
  • Senders: That’s you and your business! While you may not have a seat at the law-making table, you do have an ethical responsibility to your audience. As such, it’s your responsibility to learn the rules and stick to them!

What Are The Text Marketing Rules?

We’ll begin with the most straightforward do’s and don’ts of every text marketing campaign. If you’re new to SMS regulations, or just want a little more clarity, we’ll dive in a little deeper to these concepts below.

  • You cannot buy lists of phone numbers and add them as subscribers
  • You can upload lists of existing contacts so long as they have given express written consent to receive text messages from you
  • For commercial texts, your consent must be in writing
  • You cannot send copyrighted or trademarked material that has not been licensed for your use.
  • In your confirmation you must provide subscribers with an estimated number of texts your business plans to send out each month. Anything significantly exceeding that number is considered unsolicited.
  • For non-commercial, informational texts (such as those sent by or on behalf of tax-exempt non-profit organizations, political purposes, and other noncommercial purposes, like school closings) your consent may be oral
  • You aren’t allowed to use the word “Free” in your call to action advertisements. Per CTA regulations, you must let people know when they sign up that “message and data dates may apply”
  • You cannot send messages that contain nudity, sexually explicit content, or anything promoting illegal drugs/substances.
  • You can only send messages pertaining to alcohol to age verified subscribers.
  • You cannot send confidential information, threats of violence, hate speech, or graphic violence.

Text Message Laws

Now that you’re more familiar with the rules, let’s take it a step further and engage with the laws that compliment compliance. At SimpleTexting we support all major mobile carriers across the U.S. and Canada, so we’ll touch on the most prevalent regulations in both countries.

Telephone Consumer Protection Act

As we previewed above, the TCPA is the U.S. legislation passed to govern all existing forms of telecommunications. The main takeaway from this legislation is that businesses and organizations MUST obtain written consent from individuals before texting them. This applies in cases even when you’ve already collected a customers information. Just because you have their number doesn’t mean you can send them texts. You must have their express, written, consent. In addition to providing permission, your organization is also responsible with providing your identity in your confirmation message as well as in message opt-out instructions.

For any legal buffs out there, you may be familiar with two big cases that brought the TCPA into the national spotlight.

The first was Moser v. FCC which was essentially the first rebuttal of telemarketers to the new legislation. The outcome was the law and its industry restrictions being held up as constitutional. Another interesting Ninth Circuit case came into play after the millennium. It evaluated wether the TCPA applied in cases of text advertising. Finally, there was the iconic 2014 case which saw Capital One fall in a class action lawsuit that resulted in $75.5 MILLION in penalties for utilizing an automated dialer without consent.

CAN-SPAM Act

If the TCPA is the foundation, consider CAN-SPAM the window dressing. Passed by Congress in 2003, CAN-SPAM institutes further rules that protect consumers and businesses from unwanted electronic mail messages on wireless devices. This legislation is also commonly associated/known as the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003. CAN-SPAM gives the FCC grounds to police texted commercial content to avoid unwanted mobile messages.

There are seven main takeaways from the CAN-SPAM act:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines
  3. Identify the message as an ad
  4. Tell recipients where you’re located
  5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you
  6. Honor opt-out requests promptly
  7. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf (this applies more so if you’re a business that outsources some of your marketing. Both parties are legally responsible for any misconduct)

Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL)

In 2014 Canada passed their version of the TCPA. The goal of this legislation is to protect Canadian citizens from spam and malware while also supporting a competitive, innovative economy. The CASL describes rules for anyone who wants to send Commercial Electronic Messages, or CEMs, to recipients in Canada.

Similar to U.S. legislation, CASL is based on a system of consent. However, Canadian consent comes in two forms:

  • Implied consent: You obtain consent when a person provides contact information through an existing business or non-business relationship, or discloses or publicly publishes their info
  • Express consent: You obtain consent when the person explicitly agrees, either orally or in writing, to receive your CEMs

Express consent is valid until the recipient withdraws it, but implied consent generally has an expiration date of two years, after which you can no longer legally send CEMs.

In addition to obtaining consent, you also need to provide identification/contact information and an unsubscribe mechanism in all of your CEMs, similar to the automatic compliance message required in the states. The CASL recommends providing an in-text opt out method (text STOP to stop) as well as a link to unsubscribe.

Have a question about text laws? Send us a note, we’re happy to help! If you or your business is in need of official legal counsel on issues of compliance and regulations, we urge to connect with an attorney specializing in Telecommunications and Mobile Marketing Law.

Disclaimer:Please note that this advice is for informational purposes only and is neither intended as nor should be substituted for consultation with appropriate legal counsel and/or your organization’s regulatory compliance team.

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