This guide serves as a reference for running and maintaining compliant SMS programs with Clearstream. First, we'll cover the 'landscape' of SMS compliance (TCPA, CTIA, MMA), then take a deeper look at the specific requirements for SMS programs.
TCPA - the federal law
The Telephone Consumer and Protection Act (TCPA) was initially passed into law by the FCC in 1991 to protect consumers from unwanted calls from marketers. The TCPA was later updated to include SMS (text message) as well. A major revision in 2013 included prohibiting calls or text messages to consumers that have not given prior written or electronic consent to be contacted. Furthermore, an established business relationship (ie - your customer) does not fulfill express consent. Each subscriber has to give clear, express consent to be contacted via text message, regardless of of the relationship with the subscriber. The TCPA also requires that the consumer (subscriber) have the ability to easily opt-out of a program.
A few exceptions to the TCPA:
- Calls or text messages made for emergency purposes
- Calls or text messages made by or on behalf of a tax-exempt nonprofit organization
- 'Health Care' calls or text messages made by, or on behalf of a “covered entity”, as defined in the HIPAA Privacy Rule.
Virtually all shortcode SMS traffic falls under the jurisdiction of the TCPA. Clearstream's SMS platform enforces full TCPA compliance.
CTIA - Shortcode Program Compliance
The CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association / The Wireless Associaition) "works to protect consumers while fostering a competitive environment for shortcode programs."
The primary objectives of the CTIA are to:
- Provide consumers the best possible user experience;
- Honor consumer choices and prevent abuse of messaging platforms;
- Deliver flexible guidelines that communicate compliance values clearly;
- Enable the short code industry to self-regulate; and
- Facilitate enforcement measures, if necessary, to protect consumers quickly and consistently.
All shortcode marketing programs are subject to regular audits performed by the CTIA. If any campaign is flagged for non-compliance, the CTIA will work directly with U.S. wireless carriers to 1. remedy the issue, or 2. discontinue the shortcode program.
The CTIA provides, and regulary updates, their Shortcode Compliance Handbook to all SMS providers and organizations running SMS programs on shortcodes.
MMA - Consumer Best Practices
The MMA (Mobile Marketing Association) is a "global non-profit trade association representing all players in the mobile marketing value chain. It works to promote, educate, measure, guide and protect the mobile marketing industry worldwide."
Similar to the CTIA, the MMA provides a Consumer Best Practices for Mobile Messaging handbook as a guideline for companies using shortcode text messaging for marketing purposes. The MMA regulary updates their Best Practices Handbook accordingly as the mobile marketing industry evolves.
Wireless Carrier PoliciesEach Tier 1 (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile) wireless carrier maintains their own policies in regards to SMS traffic on their respective network. The CTIA and MMA regulary update their compliance handbooks to adhere to all wireless carrier policies.
We work closely with the four Tier 1 U.S. wireless carriers to ensure that all programs are in line with each carrier's shortcode messaging policies.
SMS Program RequirementsPrior Express Consent
It is legally required to obtain express written or electronic consent before opting a subscriber into your SMS program.
- written consent - a form that a customer/lead/consumer fills out, clearly giving your organization permission to contact them via text message. If your organization has a list of subscribers who have given express consent, your list may be eligible to import into your Clearstream account. List Importing guidelines
- electronic consent - a customer/lead/consumer opting in to your SMS program by 1. texting a Keyword to your shortcode, or 2. filling out a Form on your website.
SMS Program CTA Requirements
All programs must clearly disclose the verbiage below on any opt-in CTA (call-to-action):
All SMS programs are legally required to provide an easy opt-out/unsubscribe method for subscribers. The following keywords are universal opt-out/unsubscribe keyword commands for all shortcodes running on the Clearstream platform: stop, quit, end, unsubscribe, cancel, optout, block, unsub and remove. If a subscriber at any time replies with one of these keywords, they will be automatically removed from the program they have subscribed to.
A subscriber who has joined multiple programs on the same shortcode can also reply stopall or stop all to unsubscribe from all programs.
We also take additional measures to ensure that any subscriber who wishes to opt-out of a program is able to. Clearstream flags any 'negative' incoming messages from subscribers. Messages containing any profanity, or negative phrases (ie - "please take me off your list" or "I don't want to receive these texts anymore") are flagged for removal. Each flagged incoming messages is manually reviewed and handled appropriately. Though this measure is not legally required, we feel it ensures cleaner programs long-term.
Clearstream not only follows all laws and guidelines, but takes additional measures to ensure all programs are sucessful. In the end, no one likes or wants spam, regardless of the channel. These laws and industry guidelines help to create a healthier SMS ecosystem for everyone. If you have any questions concerning legal compliance, feel free to reach out.