It’s always mandatory to gain consent when messaging end users through channels like SMS. Now that you’ve identified the tasks you’re incorporating into your workflow, utilize the compliance guidelines to provide the proper opt-in and opt-out mechanisms for your community.
What happens when you want to automate notifications to exposed contacts who have not previously opted in? Are you at risk of legal ramifications? The short answer is a bit complicated.
On March 20, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a Declaratory Ruling stating that automated communications to the public with important COVID-19 information does not violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).
This means, in certain circumstances, government entities do not need to worry about potential violations that could cost $500 to $1500 per unwanted message. There are two requirements to fall within this Declaratory Ruling:
The messenger must be from a hospital, or be a healthcare provider, state or local health official, or other government official as well as a person under the express direction of such an organization and acting on its behalf; and
The content of the message must be solely informational, made necessary because of the COVID-19 outbreak, and directly related to the imminent health or safety risk arising out of the COVID-19 outbreak.
But, what does it mean for content to be “directly related to the imminent health or safety risk arising out of the COVID-19 outbreak”? Here are some examples:
A message from a hospital with vital and time-sensitive health and safety information that citizens welcome, expect, and rely upon to make decisions to slow the spread of the COVID-19 disease.
An informational message to inform and update the public about measures to address the pandemic, made on behalf of, and at the express direction of, a healthcare provider.
A message from a county official to inform citizens of shelter-in-place requirements, quarantines, medically administered testing information, or school closures necessitated to the national emergency.
So, does that mean you’re in the clear when it comes to SMS for contact tracing tasks? No. This is truly an exception for the COVID 19 pandemic. Further, the TCPA exemption does not replace proper consent/opt-in.
The CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association) represents the U.S. wireless communications industry and companies throughout the mobile ecosystem. The association provides messaging principles and best practices to protect end users from unwanted messages.
Why does this matter? Deliverability.
Especially during this time, carriers are working tirelessly to ensure critical information gets delivered while also protecting against spam and misinformation. They continually evaluate whether messages are wanted or not based on their guidelines. If messages are unwanted or fall outside other aspects of their guidelines, they will be blocked.
This is where opt-ins become really important.
The goal is to protect end users from spam while providing the information they need to stay informed and healthy. Failure to gain consent can erode trust, harm providers’ reputation, and ultimately impact organizations’ ability to send messages at all. When it comes to notifications to exposed individuals who haven’t previously opted in, there are a few things you can do to obtain consent:
Manually call and then ask the exposed contact to opt into SMS.
Email the contact and let them choose the channel they prefer to use.
Utilize billboards in your city or state asking citizens to opt into a specific number to be notified if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19.
Create a landing page on your website or add social media posts asking citizens to input their number to be notified if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19.
Remember, digital communications done the right way builds trust with your constituents. Outside of deliverability, these strategies help ensure citizens know the communication is coming from your trusted organization and not potential spammers.