Defining Text Message Spam

Earlier this week, a "significant number" of the 75 million AT&T customers received a text message encouraging them to watch Tuesday night's Idol premiere.  Not everyone on AT&T received the message (i.e. our own Jeff Rohrs double checked his AT&T-powered iPhone and confirmed that he didn't receive one), but enough subscribers did receive the message to warrant the attention of the New York Times (see full article here) and many folks complaining on Twitter. 

Some cell phone providers, such as Verizon and Cingular, send out transactional messages (i.e. an alert that a bill is due).  I don't remember opting-in to my Verizon balance alert, but I appreciate the reminder.  Because I have not seen similar uproar in response to these types of "transactional" text message communications, it appears that there is, in fact, a line between the types of text messages that are acceptable and unacceptable in the eyes of a subscriber, even if the law does not provide direction on "commercial" vs. "transactional" text messages in the way CAN-SPAM has defined them for email.

While Fox claims that the American Idol text was a innocuous reminder, this message was clearly commercial in nature, and one that should be sent only to subscribers who have explicitly opted-in to receive future messages.  Even though the message was without financial cost to the end subscriber, it seems Fox and/or AT&T may have cost themselves some of their brand by sending out this text 'spam.' 

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