Uber Defends Robocalls, Claims They Were Legitimate Political Messages

A week after Uber was sued for allegedly spamming non-customers with text messages, the ridesharing service faces another complaint claiming intrusive telephonic behavior. This time, the plaintiff says Uber is violating federal and New York state laws with pre-recorded calls urging consumers to contact their local lawmakers. But Uber says the calls were political in nature, thus exempt from the robocall rules.

Earlier this summer, Uber had been trying to rile up New York City consumers to oppose Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to put a cap on the number of non-taxi drivers who can pick up passengers. But according to the complaint [PDF] filed Tuesday in a federal court, the company’s opposition campaign is robocalling NYC residents without their permission.

The plaintiff claims that between July 16 and July 21, Uber robocalled his home landline four different times with messages urging consumers to rise up against the mayor’s proposal (which has subsequently been dropped).

Three of the calls used the following prerecorded message, per the plaintiff:

“Hi. It’s Molly with Uber, and we need your help. Uber ended the days when you couldn’t get a ride home because cabs didn’t want to leave Manhattan. Now Mayor de Blasio is trying to bring the bad old days back because his millionaire taxi donors are telling him to. But why on earth would your Council Member ever consider voting for something like this? They should stand up for you, not take orders from the mayor. Your Council Member is sponsoring this bill, and we need your voice. Please call your council member, and tell them to take their names off Mayor de Blasio’s anti-Uber bill. Because you, and all New Yorkers, deserve reliable transportation. Paid for by Uber.”

The other call was virtually the same, but from “Derrick.”

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act prohibits telemarketers from initiating “any telephone call to any residential telephone line using an artificial or prerecorded voice to deliver a message without the prior express consent of the called party.” Violations of the TCPA can result in fines of at least $500 per call; more if it’s proven that the caller knowingly violated the rules.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status to represent all recipients of these calls who did not give Uber their express consent to receive prerecorded marketing calls. The plaintiff, who is an attorney, believes there are thousands of others who were on the receiving end of this campaign.

However, as those of you who live in election “battleground” states are well aware, the TCPA does have an exemption for certain political campaign robocalls. Uber, which plans to fight this lawsuit, tells Bloomberg News that it believes these calls fall under the category of acceptable political messaging.

The company rep contends that Uber was “engaged in legitimate efforts to enlist the support of New York voters, a great many of whom were opposed” to de Blasio’s proposal.

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