Google Settles Text Spam Suit For $6 Million

Lawsuit accused Google's Disco "group texting" service of having "jammed" cellphones with torrents of unwanted texts.

Mathew J. Schwartz, Contributor

July 8, 2013

3 Min Read

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A federal judge has ruled that Google will be allowed to settle a class action lawsuit against its now-shuttered Disco service by creating a $6 million common fund, which will be used to compensate spammed consumers.

Disco was a "group texting" service, launched in March 2011 by in-house Google app development subsidiary Slide, which Google purchased for $200 million in 2010. Disco users could create groups with up to 99 people's names and phone numbers, then use a single phone number to distribute an SMS to everyone in the group. Any group members could respond to SMS messages they received from Disco, and their response would be broadcast to everyone else in their group.

In May 2011, however, Google began facing class action lawsuits over Disco having "jammed" people's cellphones with a torrent of unwanted SMS messages.

According to one of the lawsuits filed, some people who'd been signed up to Disco groups without their consent began receiving so many messages -- which weren't labeled as being from -- that it created a virtual cellphone denial of service for everyone else in the group. "After receiving the first text message, plaintiff received approximately 105 more text messages through the service, all expressing confusion and anger over the unsolicited barrage of messages," according to the lawsuit. "The flood of text messages became so overwhelming that it effectively 'jammed' plaintiff's cellphone, rendering it completely inoperable until the flow of messages subsided."

[ Learn about key changes in Google's mobile apps. Read Google Tweaks Android, iOS Apps. ]

The lawsuits, filed by Chicago-based law firm Edelson McGuire, which is now known as Edelson, accused Google of violating provisions of the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) by sending unsolicited text messages to wireless phone numbers and requiring that consumers opt-out to stop them. "You've [got to] get consent before you spam people," the firm's founder, Jay Edelson, said in an interview at the time.

But Google can settle one of the lawsuits, filed on behalf of Nicole Pimental and Jessica Franklin in California Northern District Court, for $6 million, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers recently ruled.

Her eight-page ruling -- which said that Google and Slide sent about 400,000 spam text messages to 185,688 unique telephone numbers -- noted that "only a small portion of the settlement class is expected to file claims," meaning anyone who does file a claim will likely receive the maximum amount possible, which is $500 per person affected, reported Courthouse News Service. Law firm Edelson, meanwhile, stands to pocket $1.5 million as part of the settlement deal.

The $6 million settlement represents just 0.01% of Google's annual revenue.

What became of Disco? Google shuttered Slide in August 2011, shortly after the service released an iOS app named Photovine. Except for Photovine, all of Slide's apps and services, including Disco, were discontinued at that time.

About the Author(s)

Mathew J. Schwartz


Mathew Schwartz served as the InformationWeek information security reporter from 2010 until mid-2014.

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