SMS News

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April 04, 2016

How to Give Away a Million Burgers with Mobile Coupons

 

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Recently, the fast food chain Jack in the Box announced it was giving away one million of its new double-stacked, buttery-bun hamburgers. The “Declaration of Delicious” giveaway announcement came in the form of a Superbowl 50 commercial, and was designed to promote the restaurant chain’s new menu. 

 

Coupon Fun … And Fraud?

Consumers had one week to claim their free burgers. Doing so required making a visit to the Jack in the Box website and signing up to receive a mobile coupon for a free Double Jack or Jumbo Jack burger. 

However, coupon fraud is an issue that isn’t going away anytime soon, so how was it possible for one of the biggest burger chains in the United States to give away one million burgers without more than a few people claiming more than a few coupons? 

 

The Mobile Coupon Solution

In the old days, print coupons would have made the Jack in the Box giveaway a prime target for fraud. Today’s mobile coupons have all but eradicated the issue, with Jack in the Box combining online and offline tools to sidestep fraud-related problems. The restaurant chain sent redeemable codes over text or email to those who signed up to receive the coupon; the codes featured expiration dates. Guests had to either bring the printed versions of the online coupon to the restaurant, or show the codes to a staff member on a mobile device. 

 

What Consumers Preferred

Unsurprisingly, guests overwhelmingly favored the mobile version of the Jack in the Box coupons. Research by CodeBroker noted 70 percent to 80 percent of emailed coupons are viewed on mobile phones, while 20 percent to 30 percent of said coupons get printed. Overall, pulling up a coupon code is considered to be much easier than taking the time to print it.

In terms of email and SMS, consumers generally prefer receiving coupon codes via SMS. The percentage of those who indicate SMS as their favored methods for receiving deals and discounts has continued to rise over the past few years, something that’s very likely to continue. 

 

A Few Suggestions

The Jack in the Box promotion offers several lessons for marketers looking to refine their mobile tactics. For example, it’s been suggested that the restaurant chain emphasized its mobile app as a means of obtaining mobile coupons directly, as higher redemption rates come from app coupons, according to CodeBroker. Another suggestion marketers might consider for their own mobile marketing campaigns is one-time-use coupons at checkout. Generic promo codes generally result in more fraud.

Jack in the Box also missed a golden opportunity to collect information on consumer behavior throughout its burger campaign, starting with issuance and followed by redemption, location, and expiration. One-time-use coupons provide the chance to collect such analytics, and allow for tailored demographic segmentation and new campaign re-targeting. 

What’s the moral of this mobile marketing story? Jack in the Box did a fine job with its mobile marketing campaign, but failed to capitalize on a few key avenues. Mobile marketers would do well to fill in these holes in their own efforts. 

 

April 03, 2016

Pinnacle Bank SMS Scam Hits Nebraska

 

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The people of Columbus, Nebraska, and nearby areas have been targeted by a text message scam. The local police department used social media to issue a warning, asking people to be especially weary of text messages requesting users to reply with personal banking information. 

 

What Is Text Fraud?

Text fraud, or phishing, has become increasingly popular among online criminals. This particular scammer targeted random phone numbers in and around Columbus and posed as local Pinnacle Bank. The text asked users to tap a link that would prompt them to verify their account information (even if they weren’t a bank customer), which gave the criminals access to users’ personal information. 

This isn’t the first time bad SMS news has hit the mainstream. Text fraud in particular is increasingly invasive on our mobile phones, and a serious problem for financial institutions around the world. Just last month, several banks in Australia were pawns in an SMS scam; 9 banks in total were part of an elaborate and sophisticated ploy that asked bank customers to check or verify private account information. 

The text messages alone don’t do any damage, but they’re designed to look and sound like the real deal. The Federal Trade Commission advises anyone who receives these types of text messages to delete them immediately. According to the FTC website, “Legitimate businesses don’t ask you to send sensitive information through insecure channels.”

Needless to say, text messaging is not a secure form of communication, even though 80 percent of text-savvy consumers use text for business. Working with banks or other private institutions via text isn’t the problem, and people shouldn’t be afraid to engage in SMS activity if they prefer that form of communication. However, everyone should be aware that the service businesses are able to provide via text are very limited, and they should never ask for private account information via text.

Online criminals commonly request things like usernames, passwords, and social security numbers; even something as simple as your address, phone number, or date of birth could compromises your identity. They’ll often use aggressive tactics to urge you to action, threatening to close accounts or discontinue service if the user does not respond. 

 

Protecting Yourself

The best thing to do if you ever suspect text fraud or a phishing scam is ignore the communication and notify the business the text claims to be coming from. The FTC also recommends that you protect yourself with security software, and keep your phone as updated as possible. Keep an eye on your credit reports and financial information. If you see anything that looks suspicious, catching it early can save you a lot of time and grief. And finally, report text fraud to the proper authorities, like The Anti-Phishing Working Group, which includes ISPs, security vendors, financial institutions, and law enforcement agencies. 

March 30, 2016

The Play with 160 Characters

 

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‘Please ensure mobile devices are switched on before the commencement of the performance’ is not something you expect to hear as a theater patron. But that’s exactly what audiences at Fredericton’s Theatre New Brunswick were asked to do for Returning Fire, a play looking at the struggles faced by a former soldier trying to reintegrate into society.

Penned by local playwright Ryan Griffith, Returning Fire tells the story of a soldier in the Canadian Armed Forces returning home from the war in Afghanistan. While trying to reconnect with a friend from his youth, the soldier is haunted by the ghosts of war and the spectre of PTSD, all too common among veterans. 

The play - set in Fredericton - recently completed a short run at the New Brunswick. It’s themes of lost innocence and battle scarred psyches have been explored by plenty of dramatists before, but the production takes a thrilling new approach to the theatrical experience, harnessing mobile technology to engage audiences in a way that pushes conventional boundaries. Indeed, Returning Fire not only dispenses with theater conventions - it largely dispenses with the theater  altogether.

The majority of the story is told through text messages. Ticket holders become audience members at 4pm, when the first text comes through. For the next four hours, the play unfolds as dialogue between the two principal characters, culminating in the revelation of a secret location in Fredericton where the physical denouement will take place. The anticipation builds as audience members converge at the location to witness the live reunion of the characters.

The playwright relished the challenge of creating an entirely new kind of theater using the lexicon of SMS. “It was a lot of fun to recreate that kind of dialogue,” he told the Aquinian. “For me, it was as fun to write as a normal play.”

A Griffith suggests, the appeal of the concept goes beyond a gimmicky use of technology. It’s about the effect that text messaging has had on the way we communicate: the abbreviations, the misunderstandings about intent and tone - even the agony of silence, which takes on a different dimension when the characters aren’t sharing the same physical space. 

Artistic Director Thomas Morgan Jones says Griffith’s work is “able to boldly challenge notions of what live theatre is… by exploring the use of technology in theatre.” 

That exploration was facilitated by Ez Texting, who provided the platform through which the drama unfolds. Morgan Jones says the production would not have been possible without us:

“The idea behind the play was to have two characters text messaging each other three and a half hours before the live play would start. The audience would then receive these text messages on their own phones. During the texts, they would discover where these characters planned to meet in the city of Fredericton, and could then travel to that location to watch the play. When we came up with the idea, we had no idea how we would do it. Thankfully, we found EZTexting.”

As other theaters consider producing Returning Fire, Morgan Jones hopes the unlikely alliance between mobile technology and drama will continue to develop, with Ez Texting’s SMS service his “first recommendation for bringing the play to life” in future productions.

The future of theatrical drama lies with those dramatists willing to break with convention. Although this is the first time text messaging has been used to stage a play, the innovation is part of a wider trend towards a radical reinterpretation of theatre as we know it. 

Returning Fire is a story about the isolation of PTSD and the difficulty of making human connections in an increasingly atomized world. It’s creator has not only recognized the role played by online communication in fueling and normalizing that atomization, but brought it to life as a distinct and vital character.

March 18, 2016

TCPA Court Cases Resulting Favorably for Text Marketing Companies

 

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Less than four years have elapsed since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adapted the Telephone Consumer Protections Act (TCPA) to include text messaging. When the changes to the TCPA were first announced in 2012, text marketers - and companies that use text marketing services - were concerned that the changes would have a negative impact on their business models. To an extent, they’ve been proven right - but the fallout has been largely confined to the inconvenience of facing down and defeating lawsuits, rather than actually losing them.

In fact, since 2012, there have been five major court decisions to have gone the way of text message marketers. Far from wreaking havoc on the text marketing industry, the updated TCPA has had the effect of protecting honest business practices, and the aforementioned court decisions could set crucial precedents for the future. 

First, a brief recap of the story so far:

Created in 1991, the TCPA required businesses to gain express written consent before making automated phone calls. In 2012, the FCC took the view that consumers should have similar protections from automated text messages.

Initially, mobile marketers were not worried by the update. The concept of ‘prior express written consent’ was a core tenet of text message marketing. One of the reasons mobile marketing has been so successful is that it came of age well after the irritation of spam emails and late night robocalls had been felt by everyone. It simply didn’t make good business sense to follow that model for SMS. The majority of practitioners of text marketing were already doing what the law now required of them.

This was precisely the problem. The FCC’s new rules used language that could be interpreted as an invalidation of existing consent agreements. Because those agreements had not previously been required by law, companies’ record-keeping was not as good as it could have been. The quibble between the FCC and telemarketers came down to whether or not new consent was required from existing B2C relationships.

So far, the legal system has sympathized with companies who had gained consent prior to the legislation. The most high profile example was an action brought against Microsoft. In a ruling on November 17th 2015, Judge Manuel Real of the United States District Court for the Central District of California granted Microsoft’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought by two plaintiffs claiming the company did not seek fresh consent after the TCPA update. Judge Real wrote in his judgement: 

“Plaintiffs voluntarily sought specific information about Microsoft promotions, providing both their phone numbers and their express consent to receive that information by texting specific keywords from their mobile phones. There is no cognizable legal theory that could support liability against Defendants, and dismissal with prejudice is appropriate.”

In other words, he deemed the lawsuit frivolous - a cynical ploy by the plaintiffs to extract damages from a huge tech company. Text marketers everywhere hope this - along with a handful of other cases - sets a precedent that will prevent future litigation and allow fair business to carry on unobstructed.

March 15, 2016

Facebook May Bring Back SMS Integration

 

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If you loved being able to message your Facebook friends without having to go through the site, you might have been bummed when Facebook pulled the functionality from Android phones almost three years ago.

The company did away with its Facebook Messenger App due to lack of interest on a broad scale. But now, thanks to a new application of which Android Police has obtained screenshots, it looks like you may once again be able to text your Facebook pals with the ease of opening up one phone or tablet app.

 

The Mysterious Messaging Application

Apparently, the mysterious app is a test application. Facebook has told The Verge it’s “testing the ability for people to easily bring all their conversations – from SMS and Messenger – to one place.” 

The app seems to bring a combination of functions and features, similar to those found in Google Hangouts, together to give users a simple way to send and receive SMS texts as well as Facebook messages.  

Facebook reps say that the test application will be an easy way to see SMS messages and respond to them, all in one place. Users will be able to identify in Messenger whether they want to access their SMS messages in the application, so that the messages they read frequently will be stored together.

 

Will Facebook Take Over How We Use SMS Messaging?

It appears that Facebook might want to take charge of how Android users read, send, and store their SMS messages. The company has recently launched support for its Android Messenger app that allows for multiple account integration. 

When Facebook first came out with its Messenger App in 2012, the social media giant said that it would not be possible for users to store texts or use the app’s features on the web version of its platform. However, this time, things might be different. Facebook hasn’t commented on whether or not the new Messaging App will come with the same restrictions, but we’re guessing that it might not – or at least that it will be more user friendly in terms of SMS integration, because the company will certainly want to take an aggressive stab at beating out Apple’s iMessage application that is already allowing seamless text coordination.

 

How Do You Get the New Messenger App?

Right now, select Android users are able to get the new Facebook Messenger App. To see if your device allows you to switch over to the new functionality of SMS integration, you can check for a “Change SMS App” option in Messenger’s settings. Facebook says that the feature is optional, so you absolutely don’t have to route all of your SMS messaging into this central location if you would rather not do so.

 

February 17, 2016

Victoria's Secret Sued Over Unsolicited Texts

 

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What is it with these class action lawsuits lately? It seems like companies are having a hard time complying with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Last September, Yahoo was back in court challenging the legitimacy of a class action lawsuit filed early 2014. Now, Victoria Secret appears to want a piece of the action; the lingerie company faces litigation for excessive text messaging. 

The plaintiff, Michael Hannegan, willingly signed up for the company’s SMS notifications under the contract condition the company would send no more than six messages per day. Something went wrong in November last year, because according to Hannegan, Victoria’s Secret sent almost 100 unwanted text messages in a single day.

 

Seeking Class Action 

According to the pending class action suit: “Victoria's Secret undertook a misguided effort to increase sales by causing the mass transmission of spam text message advertisements in the form of mobile alerts.”

Hannegan is currently seeking class action status; the law says he (and potentially others harmed in this case) may be eligible for damages up to $1,500 per text message. 

Aside from wondering what Mr. Hannegan wanted from “generic advertisements for various products and sales,” most people are wondering if the case will even go to trial. 

At first glance, the excessive texts that occurred in November seem covered by the TCPA. What’s not clear at this point is whether the messages were all the same, perhaps duplicated, or sent by mistake. 

A judge will have to decide whether or not to grant Hannegan class action status on behalf of other cell phone users who may have also been victims. Based on past cases, the odds seem to be in Hannegan’s favor.

 

Similar TCPA Cases 

In January of 2014, Reuters reported that the U.S. District Judge Manish Shah “rejected Yahoo's arguments that a class action could subject it to damages that were disproportionate to the alleged harm…” Shah also allowed multiple plaintiffs to sue as a group. Yahoo is still battling it out in court and trying to deny the legitimacy of the class action altogether. 

In 2013, a similar case filed against well-known shoe brand, Steve Madden, was settled for $10 million.

Steve Madden had been accused of sending thousands of unsolicited texts through third-party advertisers, defending its actions with these two principles: 1) “That consumers had implicitly consented to receive text message solicitations by providing their cell phone numbers while visiting Steve Madden stores; and alternatively, that a third party advertiser sent the text messages and should be responsible, not Steve Madden.”

These defenses were both covered under the TCPA, and the cobbler didn’t have a leg to stand on. 

These kinds of lawsuits will become more popular as people become more aware of these legal protections. In fact, some legal firms are soliciting people who may have legal claim in similar scenarios.

 

January 29, 2016

What Is 'Vuvuzela Texting'?

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Is privacy something you value on your smartphone? Most of us assume some level of inconspicuousness while using any number of electronic devices. From cell phones and Internet browsers to desktop computers and software, the information we send and receive on a daily basis is actually a lot less secure than you may realize. And that’s okay, for most of us.

Most of us don’t need super tight, military-grade security on our devices. For most people, security can be managed using encryption software, firewalls, passwords and so on. But even still, the security of our most basic communications, like texting, can be compromised. That is, until now. 

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed a text messaging system called Vuvuzela—a system they believe almost guarantees a user’s privacy and anonymity. 

 

How Does Vuvuzela Work?

Here’s how it works: the system sends different encrypted messages to three different servers designed to unwrap the encryption one at a time. For anyone attempting to intercept these messages the process is made far more difficult. However, successful interception of one of the three messages can still reveal information about the sender and the intended recipient. 

Vuvuzela takes the process one step further by sending out decoy messages from each server after a communication has been transmitted. These messages are encrypted and sent to other secure destinations. Moreover, this process repeats itself every time a message is received, creating a massive amount of traffic and noise. 

This noise is precisely what protects these messages—it also birthed the name Vuvuzela, which comes from popular noise-making devices used by fans at sporting events. The idea is pretty simple: make an online environment so loud no one can make sense of it.

 

Similar Technologies 

The new security system comes to light just as another recedes into the shadows. In Dec. 2015, Tor (the onion router), an anonymity tool used on the Dark Web, was hacked by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in alleged collaboration with the FBI. 

The nature of the research is still shrouded in mystery, but the online software that promised Dark Web users discreteness wound up getting a bunch of people arrested and several websites disbanded. 

Vuvuzela may be the anonymity tool that was promised by Tor—except, this time, it might actually work. 

It’s hard to say if technology like Vuvuzela is really necessary for everyday communications like texting—unless you’re Edward Snowden. Some people don’t even like the idea of complete anonymity on the web, period. And still others suggest it’s the only way to maintain a truly democratic online space.  

Either way, knowing more about where security breakdowns occur on our personal devices is a lot better than being completely in the dark. For people that text (which is pretty much everyone), unless you plan on using a security system like Vuvuzela, know that these messages can be intercepted rather easier by a person (or government agency) with the correct tools and wherewithal. 

 

January 24, 2016

Honolulu PD to Introduce Text 911

 

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Nobody wants to wind up in a life or death situation; but in the event that an emergency occurs, it is certainly good fortune to be carrying a cell phone, right? In general, the use of cell phones in emergency situations has helped dispatchers and first responders act quickly—which in turn has saved countless lives. This fact is due, in part, to the location features in most smart devices that allow emergency services to track a caller. Moreover, explaining a situation over a mobile device is far more efficient than typing up an email or sending smoke signal—most of the time. 

In some rare cases, it’s not possible or safe to communicate orally during an emergency. Who can forget the intense moment from Liam Neeson’s 2008 hit Taken, when his daughter is lying facedown under a bed praying her attackers don’t find her? Meanwhile, her father waits helplessly on the other line while she is carried away, presumably for making too much noise on her cell phone. 

This is just one exaggerated example but, truth be told, the ability to text 911 could come in handy under certain circumstances.

 

How Texting 911 Works

Just last week, the Honolulu Police Department announced its plans to launch a Text 911 system, an emergency service that will allow anyone with text features on a phone to text for help. This system includes police, firefighters, and paramedics and works similarly to the phone system we commonly use.

According to the Honolulu PD, the system is not yet available but expected to launch sometime in the next few months. While this is a great service to offer residents of Oahu, it’s most certainly not the first of its kind. 

Vermont, in fact, was the first state to organize a statewide text-to-911 system in 2014. A successful trial run with Verizon in 2012 dispelled any doubt naysayers had about flooding dispatchers with negligent texts. In 2013, Vermont received approximately 150 text-to-911 messages, ten of which helped victims of domestic abuse successfully communicate their situations without compromising their safety. 

However, Vermont’s success is tightly linked to a centralized public-safety system that makes room for fast action and changes to protocol. This is not the case everywhere. Most of the time, public safety initiatives like the text-to-911 system require participation from city or county level officials—which amounts to a lot more time and money. 

The bottom line: state emergency call centers will have to adopt several new technologies in order to make text-to-911 a viable solution for everyone in the US. Despite support from the FCC, this has not come to fruition just yet and will likely proceed slower than expected for obvious bureaucratic reasons. 

For now, emergency services still emphasize the importance of making a voice call to 911 in the event of an emergency. While texting may be necessary under obscure circumstances, one huge disadvantage of the service is that emergency call centers are not yet able to track an emergency text. 

Smoke signals are also not advised. 

 

January 16, 2016

Hyperlocal Messaging App Partners with Twitter

 

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What could possibly be easier than making purchases online? A new localized messaging app called Lookup is attempting to make things easier with offline initiatives. Lookup, a Bangalore-based free messaging app is taking over consumer’s offline space, helping to deliver food, book flights and schedule appointments. 

In January this year, CEO and Founder of Lookup, Deepak Ravindran, raised $382K in seed capitol, which included money from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. 

Nine months after the seed funding round, Ravindran locked in $2.5 million in series A funding led by Narayana Murthy’s Catamaran Ventures, Global Founders Capital and again, Biz Stone, to name but a few. 

 

Social Networking

It was no surprise when, at the end of last year, Lookup officially partnered with Twitter, adding some 350 million active Twitter users to the app’s growing user base. According to Ravindran, the partnership will be mutually beneficial. 

“Our idea is to make Lookup ubiquitous," said Ravindran. “Twitter's real-time communications platform could not be skipped for Lookup's on-demand local commerce service.”

Local service is what Lookup is all about. Using chat features already available in most smartphones, users simply text or chat special requests to Lookup—things like dinner reservations, movie tickets, hair appointments and more. 

With Twitter now onboard, the service will implement use of a Twitter handle (@Lookuplite) to make these same requests in real time in both public and private conversations. Just Tweet a request @Lookuplite and a response will appear shortly after to service the request. 

Twitter’s partnership will provide a much larger audience to the delivery service, as well as streamline the user experience both on and offline. 

“We want Lookup to be the Google equivalent for finding products and services offline, said Ravindran. “For this, we hyperlink every local store near you with a simple chat app which give you synchronous connection to the verified vendor.”

 

Lookup Looks Forward 

Currently, the app is operational in three local areas throughout India: Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi. Millions of Indian users are already using the app service to acquire goods and services without making a call, using multiple apps or searching the web. 

“I’m honored to be a part of Deepak’s next big project,” said Stone. “I’m very excited about working with such an inspiring entrepreneur, whom I share common ideologies with.”

Lookup is already pushing forward with new developments including Offline API—a unique concept where users can get access to anything on demand from local merchants. Additionally, the startup is focusing on streamlining the booking process, adding new vendors and building out its user base.  

With a friend like Twitter (or Stone) in the startup’s corner, it’s safe to bet this won’t be the last time Lookup gets noticed. 

January 15, 2016

Yahoo Class Action Suit to Go Ahead

 

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Nobody likes going to jury duty, but being part of a class action lawsuit may not be so bad. That’s because “the class” or persons affected by illegal conduct stand to benefit from one or several persons’ efforts to sue on behalf of the group. 

According to court documents from the Northern District of Illinois, Easter Division, as many as 500,000 people stand to gain $1,500 for each unwanted text message received from Yahoo! Messenger, thanks to a 68-year-old woman named Rachel Johnson. 

And that’s no small chunk of change for Yahoo!, which may lose an estimated $750 million if the class action suit goes through. So far, the forecast doesn’t look good for the online messaging service. 

 

Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)

According to protections outlined in the TCPA, Yahoo! unlawfully sent Welcome Messages to the plaintiff after she received a personalized message to her cell phone through a feature called Mobile to SMS Messenger Service. This particular feature converts a Yahoo! user’s online text into a mobile message—the process is also called PC2SMS.

After Johnson received the first personalized message regarding a loan, a follow up message was received welcoming her to Yahoo! Massager. Johnson claims she never gave consent to Yahoo! to communicate with her via text, nor did she sign the company’s terms of service agreement. 

Yahoo! told Judge Manish Shah that the plaintiff had, at some point, signed up for one of Yahoo!’s smartphone apps or services, which would have satisfied the terms and conditions required under TCPA. This argument however was “a shot in the dark,” according to Judge Shah, who has ruled that the case may proceed. 

 

A Shot in the Dark 

Yahoo! definitely erred in this case—mostly because its primary argument assumed one piece of information: 68-year-old Johnson must, in fact, have downloaded a Yahoo! app or service to her phone prior to the incident. 

The plaintiff however, did not have a smartphone at the time, and instead had a flip phone incapable of downloading applications from the Internet. Looks like grandma’s resistance to new technology is finally paying off!

 

The Intermediary 

Concerns over what’s called an “intermediary” were raised in this case and may set some unique precedence for similar lawsuits in the future. 

According to court documents, Johnson never signed any terms and conditions with Yahoo!; she did however fill out an online application for a personal loan at CashCall.com. Within the promissory notes of the loan application, Johnson consented to receive phone calls and text messages from an automatic dialing system. Yahoo! argued that the first personalized message granted prior express consent—in this case, CashCall.com is the intermediary. 

According to previous cases, intermediary consent has two requirements: 1) consent given by the recipient to an intermediary, and 2) consent conveyed by the intermediary to the sender. Yahoo! was unable to satisfy these requirements, and the intermediary argument fell short in this case. 

But that doesn’t mean we won’t see more of this shady, backdoor communication. In fact, using this intermediary argument to defend spam and unsolicited text messages could be a slippery slope that sidesteps most of the TCPA entirely. 

Johnson and her class of some 500,000 people are on their way to proving a huge point in the mobile marketing industry; but the industry moves fast and will likely use this court example to ensure the back door stays open.