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Update: Legal Considerations for Colleges Text Messaging Students

Kirk Daulerio  |  July 23, 2018

Colleges have embraced the need to incorporate mobile messaging into their student communications outreach, and since we first wrote about Texting and Privacy Laws, the best practices and requirements for sending text messages have received more clarification.

We want to pass along what we’ve learned, how we interpret the best practices, and how we work with our college partners so that colleges can continue building out their mobile messaging programs.

This article is for informational purposes and should not be considered legal advice.

First, there are a few acronyms to wrap your head around in this article, so here’s a helpful glossary:

 Glossary

CTIA

The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, established in 1984, is a 501c6 nonprofit trade association for the wireless communications industry in the United States. It represents wireless carriers and suppliers as well as manufacturers and providers of wireless products and services.

FCC

The Federal Communications Commission is an independent agency of the United States government that regulates interstate communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable.

MMA

The Mobile Marketing Association is a global non-profit trade association comprised of more than 800 member companies, from nearly fifty countries around the world. Its mission is to accelerate the transformation and innovation of marketing through mobile. Mobile Marketing includes advertising, apps, messaging, mCommerce and CRM on all mobile devices including smartphones and tablets. Member organizations include American Express, AdChina, Facebook, Google, MasterCard, McDonalds, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Visa, Vodafone, Walmart and many more. Member categories include brand marketers, agencies, mobile technology platforms, media companies, operators and others.

SMS

Short Message Service is a text messaging service component of most telephone, internet, and mobile-device systems that enables mobile devices to exchange short text messages. In 2010, SMS was the most widely used data application with an estimated 3.5 billion users (about 80% of all mobile subscribers).

TCPA

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 was passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by President George H. W. Bush. It restricts telephone solicitations (i.e., telemarketing) and the use of automated telephone equipment. The TCPA limits the use of automatic dialing systems, artificial or prerecorded voice messages, SMS text messages, and fax machines. It also specifies several technical requirements for fax machines, autodialers, and voice messaging systems.

T&C

Terms and Conditions (also terms of service and terms of use, commonly abbreviated as T&C, TOS or ToS, and ToU) are rules by which one must agree to abide in order to use a service. Terms and Conditions can also be merely a disclaimer, especially regarding the use of websites.


Got it?

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Now for the updates:

The FCC, CTIA, and MMA

In our first article, we explained how the TCPA -- the regulations enforced by the FCC -- affects text advertising programs. In this update, we'll provide you further clarification on TCPA regulations as well as additional guidance provided by the CTIA and MMA to help your outreach thrive.

While the TCPA is the only federal law through which violations may result in heavy financial penalties, there are two important organizations that influence marketing through SMS messaging: CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association) and MMA (Mobile Marketing Association).

The CTIA is an industry association of wireless carriers and others that operate in the mobile space. The CTIA has guidelines for text message marketing. If your SMS marketing program is found to be in violation of guidelines during an audit, the CTIA will report you to the carriers, which may result in carriers shutting down or suspending your program until the issue has been resolved.

The MMA releases guidelines similar to those of the CTIA. However, unlike the CTIA and TCPA, they are not specifically enforceable by anyone. They are mostly intended as best practices in managing successful SMS campaigns.

While most colleges qualify as not-for-profit, making them exempt from the TCPA, following the TCPA is highly recommended as a best practice. 

Best Practices for Opt-Ins

While these organizations put out several guidelines, they're all for the purpose of protecting individuals' privacy and helping organizations create successful SMS programs.

The TCPA requires that when asking a student to participate in your SMS message marketing program (through a web form, mobile opt-in, or even old-school pen and paper), you must get their express written consent and disclose:

By participating, you consent to receive text messages sent by an automatic telephone dialing system.

The “automated telephone dialing system” (or autodialer) disclosure must be made “clear and conspicuous” to the individual before they opt-in. Simply display the disclosure next to wherever students enter their mobile phone numbers. Thanks to the E-SIGN Act, obtaining a person's “written consent” is quite simple. The act states that since we live in a digital age, a website form submission or text message suffices.

The CTIA requires disclosures to include certain details, including a recurring program description (subscribe to receive recurring SMS offers), stop instructions (text STOP to opt out), disclosure that message and data rates may apply, and a terms and conditions or privacy policy link (T&C/Privacy Policy: bestcollege.edu/mobiletc).

Combining the disclosure required by the TCPA with the disclosures required by the CTIA results in an introductory text message like this:

Screen Shot 2018-07-20 at 11.39.34 AM

Messaging Requirements

The CTIA and TCPA also provide additional guidance for opting out of SMS marketing and sending timeframes. When you send marketing text messages, you must include a way for students to opt out of future messages. The CTIA requires that you automatically unsubscribe a person's phone number from your campaign list if they respond with any of the following words: STOP, QUIT, UNSUBSCRIBE, END, or CANCEL. Once unsubscribed, you may only message them to confirm that the request has been successfully processed. Thankfully, if a student wants to continue receiving messages, they may re-subscribe and you can resume sending them SMS messages.

The TCPA sets limits on when messages can be sent to recipients, as well. Similar to how nobody liked having their dinner interrupted by a telemarketer in the past, nobody likes being woken up by a text message advertisement.

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The TCPA requires that all marketing SMS messages be sent between 8am and 9pm. Bear in mind that this is for the time zone of the recipient, not your organization.

It's important to verify that any SMS messaging service you use will take appropriate action with opt-outs and automated messages action so your organization isn't held liable. AdmitHub's AI-powered mobile messaging system ensures that you're in full compliance with the TCPA, CTIA, and MMA guidelines.

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If you'd like to learn more about how mobile messaging can supercharge communication efforts, download our whitepaper or contact us today!

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Co-authored by Adrian Serna

Topics: marketing

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