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  • 2nd Circuit rules that text messages are not artificial voices

    Courts

    Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that a text message did not violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and affirmed the lower court’s order. The appellate court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim based on its finding that the TCPA did not apply. In December 2016, the defendant sent an automated text message to the plaintiff’s cell phone to market the defendant’s free chips promotion. The plaintiff no longer wished to receive these text messages, and accordingly, she responded to the promotion with a “STOP” message. The defendant then received a response stating that she would “no longer receive any more messages.” A few days later, the plaintiff received another automated text message with an offer.

    The Court found that the TCPA did not apply because (1) the underlying system used to send the plaintiff a text message was not an automatic telephone dialing system (but rather a “stored” list of telephone numbers used), and (2) the message did not utilize “artificial or prerecorded voice,” each of which were required elements of prohibited activity under the TCPA.  

    Courts Appellate TCPA Text Messages Consumer Complaints

  • 11th Circuit rejects a proposed TCPA class action settlement

    Courts

    On May 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded a proposed TCPA class action settlement agreement. The class, consolidated from three class actions, accused the defendant, the “world’s largest services platform for entrepreneurs,” of violating the TCPA by using an automatic telephone dialing system to send unwanted calls and text messages to promote its products. The $35 million settlement and attorney’s fees, up to $10.5 million, was approved preliminarily in 2020.

    According to the appellate court’s opinion, the district court abused its discretion in approving a proposed $35 million settlement because it: (i) did not consider the 2018 amendments to Rule 23(e)(2); (ii) overlooked possible collusion in the settlement agreement; and (iii) inadequately informed class members about the case. Additionally, the court incorrectly calculated the attorneys’ fees and wrongly treated the settlement as a common fund rather than a claims settlement. The class’s counsel was criticized for appearing to represent their own interests over those of the class since they were supposed to receive $10.5 million in fees. The court also found issues with the opt-out process, which was deemed overly complex and likely to discourage class members from opting out. As a result, the judgment was vacated.

    Courts Eleventh Circuit Appellate TCPA Settlement

  • Maine amends its telephone solicitor violations to include the reassigned numbers database

    State Issues

    On March 25, the Governor of Maine approved a new bill, HP 1433, that would require telephone solicitors to leverage the reassigned numbers database. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FCC created the reassigned numbers database in 2018 to reduce the number of calls inadvertently made to reassigned numbers. This new law would ban telephone providers from calling an individual in combination with the previously codified violations regarding the national or state do-not-call registries. The new law stated that a telephone solicitor would not violate the new law if the solicitor could demonstrate that he used the reassigned numbers database to verify that a person’s telephone number has not been reassigned before calling it. This bill will go into effect on July 16.

    State Issues Maine TCPA FCC State Legislation

  • FCC adopts rule on robocalls and robotexts, includes NPR on TCPA applicability

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On February 15, the FCC adopted a rule to protect consumers from robocalls and robotexts. According to the rule, robocallers and robotexters must honor do-not-call and consent revocation requests within 10 business days from receipt. In addition, the rule will allow consumers to revoke consent under the TCPA through any unreasonable means and will clarify that the TCPA would not be violated when a one-time text message is sent confirming a consumer’s request that no further text messages be sent if the confirmation text only confirms the opt-out request and does not include marketing information.

    The new rule clarified that revocation of consent can be made via automated methods such as interactive voice responses, key press activation on robocalls, responding with “stop” or similar messages to text messages, or using designated website or phone numbers provided by the caller all will constitute reasonable means to revoke consent. If a called party uses any of these designated methods to revoke consent, it will be considered definitively revoked, and future robocalls and robotexts from that caller must cease. The caller cannot claim that the use of such a mechanism by the called party is unreasonable. Any revocation request made through these specified means will be considered “absolute proof” of the called party's reasonable intent to revoke consent. Furthermore, when a consumer uses a method other than those discussed in the rule to revoke consent, “doing so creates a rebuttable presumption that the consumer has revoked consent when the called party satisfies their obligation to produce evidence that such a request has been made, absent evidence to the contrary.”

    The Commission also included a notice of proposed rulemaking, seeking comment on “whether the TCPA applies to robocalls and robotexts from wireless providers to their own subscribers and whether consumers should have the ability to revoke consent and stop such communications.” The rule will go into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, except for certain amendments that will not be effective until six months following OMB review. 

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Federal Issues NPR TCPA FCC Robocalls Opt-Out Consumer Protection

  • FCC ruling determines AI calls are subject to TCPA regulations

    Federal Issues

    On February 8, the FCC announced the unanimous adoption of a declaratory ruling that recognizes calls made with AI-generated voices are “artificial” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The declaratory ruling notes that the TCPA prohibits initiating “any telephone call to any residential telephone line using an artificial or prerecorded voice to deliver a message without the prior express consent of the called party” unless certain exceptions apply. The TCPA also prohibited “any non-emergency call made using an automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice to certain specified categories of telephone numbers including emergency lines and wireless numbers.”

    The ruling, effective immediately, deemed voice cloning and similar AI technologies to be artificial voice messages under the TCPA, subject to its regulations. Therefore, prior express consent from the called party is required before making such calls. Additionally, callers using AI technology must provide identification and disclosure information and offer opt-out methods for telemarketing calls.

    This ruling provided State Attorneys General nationwide with additional resources to pursue perpetrators responsible for these robocalls. This action followed the Commission’s November proposed inquiry for how AI could impact unwanted robocalls and texts (announcement covered by InfoBytes here).

    Federal Issues Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Artificial Intelligence FCC TCPA Consumer Protection

  • FCC Chairwoman proposes making all AI-generated robocalls “illegal” to help State Attorneys General

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On January 31, FCC Chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, released a statement proposing that the FCC “recognize calls made with AI-generated voices are ‘artificial’ voices under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which would make voice cloning technology used in common robocalls scams targeting consumers illegal.” Specifically, the FCC’s proposal would make voice cloning technology used in robocall scams illegal, which has been used to impersonate celebrities, political candidates, and even close family members. Chairwoman Rosenworcel stated, “No matter what celebrity or politician you favor… it is possible we could all be a target of these faked calls… That’s why the FCC is taking steps to recognize this emerging technology as illegal… giving our partners at State Attorneys General offices… new tools they can use to crack down on these scams and protect customers.”

    This action comes after the FCC released a Notice of Inquiry last month where the FCC received comments from 26 State Attorneys General to understand how the FCC can better protect consumers from AI-generated telemarking, as covered by InfoBytes here. This is not the first time the FCC has targeted robocallers: as previously covered by InfoBytes in October 2023, the FCC proposed an inquiry into how AI is used to create unwanted robocalls and texts; in September 2023, the FCC updated its rules to curb robocalls under the Voice over Internet Protocol, covered here.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FCC TCPA Artificial Intelligence Robocalls State Attorney General

  • FTC obtains injunction and monetary judgment against telemarketing company

    Federal Issues

    On January 31, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois finalized, in actions brought by the FTC, a permanent injunction and monetary judgment against a telemarketing company and certain individuals for violating the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45, and the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act, specifically the Telemarketing Sales Rule (“TSR”). The FTC’s motion for summary judgment was granted by the court, whereby the defendants were ordered to pay a monetary judgment for a civil penalty of $28,681,863.88 in favor of the FTC, and the defendants were permanently banned from participating in telemarketing or assisting and facilitating others engaged in telemarketing to consumers. The court found that the defendants violated the TSR by “initiating or causing the initiation of outbound telephone calls to consumers whose telephone numbers were on the National Do Not Call Registry… and by assisting and facilitating their inbound transfer partners’ violations of the TSR.”  This final action comes after the FTC was granted its initial order for permanent injunction and other relief in November 2023.

    Federal Issues FTC FTC Act Telemarketing TCPA Do Not Call Registry Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act

  • 26 State Attorneys General opine on FCC’s Notice of Inquiry regarding AI telemarketing

    Federal Issues

    On January 17, the State Attorneys General from 26 states submitted reply comments to the FCC’s Notice of Inquiry (the Notice) on how artificial intelligence (AI) technologies are impacting consumers. The information gleaned in response to the Notice is intended to help the FCC better protect consumers from AI-generated telemarketing in violation of the TCPA. The State AGs urged that any AI-generated voice should be considered an “artificial voice” under the TCPA to avoid “opening the door to potential, future rulemaking proceedings” that allow telemarketing agencies to use AI-assisted technologies in outbound calls without the prior written consent of a consumer. 

    Federal Issues State Attorney General FCC Artificial Intelligence Telemarketing TCPA

  • District Court partially dismisses TCPA claims

    Courts

    On December 12, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois partially granted a culinary school’s motion to dismiss claims concerning unwanted calls to enroll in cooking classes. According to the memorandum opinion and order, the plaintiff filed suit after the culinary school called her over 30 times, even though she had requested the school to place her on a do-not-call list. The plaintiff claimed the school violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) by making unwanted calls and leaving prerecorded messages on her cell phone.  

    According to the court, any calls made to a cell phone cannot violate § 227(b)(1)(B) because the court reasoned that “a cellular phone and a residential phone are not the same thing,” and that § 227(b)(1)(B) of the TCPA expressly covers “residential telephone line[s],” but not cellular telephone services. Regarding the plaintiff’s claim under § 227(b)(1)(A) of the TCPA, although the school argued there was not enough proof that the calls were prerecorded, including because some of the calls came from different states, the court disagreed and provided examples of why the calls could have been prerecorded. The court consequently denied the school’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s § 227(b)(1)(A) claim.

    Courts TCPA

  • Agencies revise TCPA examination procedures

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On November 2, the OCC published revisions to the interagency examination procedures for the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which are utilized by the FDIC, NCUA, and the OCC.  The OCC also announced that it is rescinding the “‘Telephone Consumer Protection Act and Junk Fax Protection Act’ section of the ‘Other Consumer Protection Laws and Regulations’ booklet of the Comptroller’s Handbook” and explained that OCC examiners will rely on the new interagency procedures. 

    The revisions were made to reflect amendments to the TCPA that became effective on October 25, 2021.  “The revised interagency examination procedures address:

    • provisions governing how customers can revoke consent under the TCPA;
    • special exemptions from the customer consent provisions of the TCPA for banks using automated communications to notify customers of potential account fraud; and
    • safe harbors for callers that check a reassigned number database maintained by the Federal Communications Commission.”

    The revised examination procedures booklet can be found here.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance OCC FDIC NCUA Comptroller's Handbook TCPA

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