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Facebook sued for mis-sending dirty texts

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Facebook has been sued for bombarding the wrong people with intermittently-X-rated mobile text messages.

Earlier this week, an Indiana mommy named Lindsey Abrams filed a federal class action suit against the Microsoft-propped social networking site. She's claiming that it sends thousands of unauthorized text messages to innocent bystanders across the country - and that many of these messages contain "adult content".

You see, Web 2.0 addicts can use Facebook to instantly send texts to all their virtual-doo-doo-loving buddies. But sometimes users change their phone numbers without notifying the service, and Facebook sends the texts to the wrong place.

Abrams questions whether Facebook is doing this on purpose. "Through either intentional design or gross negligence, Facebook has a flaw: The systems sends text messages to the cell phone numbers entered by a particular member, without regard to whether the member actually still uses that cell number," the suit reads.

"Because cell phone numbers are reassigned to new users after the previous user closes her or her account, Facebook's flaw has resulted in the transmission of thousands of unauthorized text messages to the wireless phones of consumers across the country."

Obscure and graphic

That "her or her" bit could mean that Abrams is particularly annoyed with the site's female users. Or it could be a typo.

Yes, Abrams is annoyed that's she's had to pay when such messages hit her phone. But that's not all. She says the messages are "often obscure and graphic" and that they can mess with your mind. "These messages can come during all times of the day or night and, because the senders are hard to identify, can be seen as intimidating or unsettling."

She's also worried about all those American children. "The issue is all the more pronounced because children are among those who receive phone numbers previously associated with Facebook members," the suit continues. "As such, adults seeking sexual encounters or other types of adult activities end up inadvertently text messaging young children."

The suit insists that Facebook turn over $5m and put the kibosh on unauthorized texts. But according to Santa Clara University law professor and tech law blogger Eric Goldman, it isn't likely to stand-up. The court will surely dismiss the complaint, he says, with a wave of the US Communications Decency Act.

"[The act] states that websites are not liable for what their users say or do," he told the The Reg. "User provide the telephone numbers. Users provide the messages being sent. And Facebook just forwards them. It may be annoying to get a message that isn't directed to you, but Facebook isn't to blame - just you can't blame the telephone company when someone makes a crank call."

But Goldman completely understands why The Reg is interested in covering this suit. "People love writing about Facebook suits," he said. "It's the new Google." ®

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