Trump Campaign Gets Pissed At Wireless Carriers For Blocking Unwanted Political Spam

from the thanks-but-no-thanks dept

While the United States talks a lot about our heroic efforts to combat robocalls and unwanted text messages, the reality is we just aren’t very good at it. Most of our initiatives go comically out of their way to fixate exclusively on “scammers,” ignoring that the biggest source of unwanted robocalls and spam texts is usually legitimate companies and debt collectors, who often utilize many of the same tactics to harass targets they know can’t pay. And while we like to crow often about “record” fines levied against bad actors, the FCC has only collected $6,790 in actual penalties of the $208 million in fines doled out so far.

When it comes to text message spam campaigns, we’ve bungled that as well. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 is a dated piece of befuddling legislation that’s been interpreted to mean that you can’t send unsolicited text message spam en masse. But marketers and political campaigns have long wiggled around the restrictions via P2P text message efforts, which still let you send blanket text message campaigns — just somewhat individually via pre-scripted templates. These efforts were ramped up by the Sanders campaign, and have since been heavily embraced by the Trump campaign.

But there was trouble in paradise earlier this month when anti-spam companies working for wireless carriers blocked a massive new text message fund raising campaign by the Trump administration, purportedly because wireless carriers were worried the effort would violate the 1991 law and wireless industry guidelines. Carriers clearly felt the Trump administration wasn’t doing enough to gain consumer consent for the message, especially given there are several lawsuits that have already been filed against both the Trump and Sanders campaigns for just this sort of thing.

Wary of angering Trump, wireless carriers pussyfooted around defending themselves, and as a result couldn’t even be bothered to comment on the record:

“Representatives for the telecom companies declined to comment for the record. But people close to Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T said the decision was not made by them, but rather by third-party administrators they employ to monitor text messaging and protect consumers from spamming. They strenuously denied that there was any partisan intent and say they were merely following guidelines conveyed by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, a trade group that represents mobile phone outfits.

The organization declined to specify what the Trump campaign had done wrong, but said in a statement, ?We expect all senders ? whether airlines, schools, banks or campaigns ? to include clear opt-out language and gain prior consent before sending a text.”

It’s fairly clear the wireless industry, traditionally fans of Trump, didn’t believe the campaign adhered to the rules. Likely because it didn’t obtain prior consent. But as is usually the case with the Trump administration, it was quick to run for its victimization cloak, insisting the blockade was a form of “partisan censorship” (there’s zero evidence to support that claim). Also much in character for the Trump administration and its FCC, when journalists pressed it for clear answers as to how exactly its campaign adhered to the law, the campaign couldn’t muster a response:

“We asked the Trump campaign to explain exactly why the texts are legal and shouldn’t have been blocked but did not get a response. The Trump campaign also did not answer our questions about how many people it tried to send the texts to and about whether the texts were unsolicited or sent to people who had signed up for campaign communications.

We also asked both the Trump campaign and carriers if they’ve come to any agreement on how to handle texts for the rest of this year’s presidential campaign but did not get any answers.”

As usual, this is all largely a self-inflicted wound. Our 1991 cornerstone law governing this stuff desperately needs updating, but Congress doesn’t want to because it might make it harder for giant corporations to spam you. Regulators have also routinely issued rulings that muddy the water, usually because they’re trying to carve out giant loopholes for debt collectors and deep-pocketed corporations. Add a lovely dose of regulatory capture to ensure enforcement is feeble, and it shouldn’t be particularly surprising that our robocall and text spamming protections, like most US consumer protections, are a confusing and heavily-litigated mess.

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Companies: at&t, t-mobile, verizon

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