'Nanny telcos' should focus on business, not censorship
T-Mobile faces lawsuit for allegedly blocking texting service over medical marijuana messages
Apparently things like upgrading customer service and improving its No. 4 market rank in the U.S. aren't keeping T-Mobile workers busy enough. Now they want to engage in unnecessary censorship over issues that, quite frankly, are none of their business.
In a case with free speech and Net neutrality implications, T-Mobile USA has been sued by a text message marketing company for allegedly blocking access to the T-Mobile network because of a client that provided information on medical marijuana.
The plaintiff in the case is Ez Texting (unrelated to EZ Wider rolling papers, I'm assuming), which alleges in a lawsuit filed last Friday in New York that the telco began "unlawfully blocking" customers' messages beginning Sept. 10.
"Ez Texting is being irreparably damaged in its business because of the blocking by T-Mobile," the lawsuit states.
T-Mobile decided to block messages for all Ez Texting clients, according to the legal filing, because it objected to the content of only one -- a site called WeedMaps, a self-described "community where medical marijuana patients connect with other patients in their geographic region to freely discuss and review local cannabis co-operatives, dispensaries, medical doctors and delivery services!" (Their exclamation point, not mine.)
The site is providing legitimate information to customers who have a legal right to purchase marijuana. Seriously, where's the problem? But just to avoid exactly the kind of trouble that ensued, Ez said it removed WeedMaps from its service. Despite this, T-Mobile continues to shut out all Ez Texting messages from its network, the lawsuit says.
For its part, T-Mobile reportedly told the Washington Post in an email that the "claims in the lawsuit are meritless." I'm not sure whether that means they're untrue or that Ez Texting is drawing inaccurate conclusions. We'll have to wait for the drama to unfold in court (if the case gets that far).
This isn't the first time a telco has arbitrarily decided to censor texts it deemed unsuitable (if not illegal). Three years ago Verizon refused to allow NARAL Pro-Choice America to send text messages on its network, arguing that it was entitled to bar "controversial or unsavory" messages. Only after sustaining adverse media coverage did Verizon change its mind.
That incident prompted media reform advocacy group Public Knowledge to petition the FCC to extend to text messaging laws prohibiting telcos from blocking phone calls. The group's request was filed in 2007 and is gathering dust in Washington.
Were T-Mobile's actions way out of line here? I think so, especially the part where it continued to block all Ez Texting clients, even after the texting service dumped WeedMaps. It strikes me as petty, vindictive and pointless. But I'm curious to see what readers think. Feel free to comment below.