Spam pizza

There's a special place in Hell reserved for people who send out spam texts. Not everyone has an unlimited plan, and unlike email or postal junk mail, spam SMS messages can actually cost people loads of money. And one of the biggest perpetrators in the U.S. is not some irate malware purveyor, but the beloved pizza company Papa John's.

Color me disappointed. I'm not much for big pizza chains, but as far as they go, Papa John's is one of my favorites. Or at least it was. The company is being targeted in a $250 million class-action lawsuit due to allegations that it sprayed spam texts all over customers — to the tune of 500,000 illegal messages in early 2010 alone. Talk about bad juju — what could've been a savvy marketing opportunity in the right hands has turned into a nightmare of bad publicity and legal action.

An opt-in system would've taken care of this nicely, but instead, some customers who had ordered Papa John's pizzas were taken by surprise with promotional texts covering things like discounts and specials. At the time, this privilege was carried out by a texting service called OnTime4U, though they are no longer retained by the pizza company's franchises. But it's still named as a defendant in the lawsuit, as it may have been responsible for pushing out this irritation — some customers claim that they've gotten as many as 15 to 16 consecutive messages in one shot, some of which occurred into the late hours of the night.

This isn't supposed to happen. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 prohibits companies from sending ads via text without a consumer's permission. And none of the plaintiffs had signed on for the massive messaging campaign. But Papa John's position is that the law doesn't apply to its program, since the texts were sent "by third-party vendors and a small number of franchisees."

Sounds like splitting hairs to me. We'll see if the jury buys it or not when the case makes it to court. If the company loses, it may have to reconcile the plaintiffs' demand for $500 per text or more — and judgements could go as high as $1,500 for each and every SMS, should the ruling determine that Papa John's "willfully broke the law."

Have you gotten spam SMS from a reputable company? If so, how often and how do you deal with it? Share your story in the comments.

[Via CNN]