Have You Received Random Text Messages from Last February? Here’s Some Scary Legal

Published on November 8, 2019

On Thursday morning, if you checked your phone and saw a random-ass message or messages, you’re not alone. Many people woke up to strange text messages from friends, family, ex-partners, and even those who have passed on—originally sent on February 14, 2019.

I can personally vouch for this, as I ended up with at least 3 random text-messages coming through my Google Voice application, which I use as part of my law practice.

Straight up funny, romantic, creepy…and potentially legally damaging to the company behind the accidental occurrences. It certainly confused many mobile carriers, with T-Mobile blaming a “third-party vendor,” Sprint blaming it on a “maintenance update,” Verizon receiving multiple complaints, and AT&T having no idea what was going on.

Syniverse’s Server Failure

The issue reportedly stems from a misconfigured system in use across all major U.S. mobile carriers and some Canadian providers, affecting anyone who uses a mobile operating system (OS) and Google Voice. Right now, it doesn’t look to be the work of any hacker or security vulnerability—but rather an issue surrounding Syniverse’s servers.

Syniverse, a third-party vendor that works with multiple carriers to provide text messaging services, allegedly had internal issues with its servers, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of undelivered texts accidentally being sent out and delivered very confused recipients.

Close to 168,000 previously undelivered text messages went out to individuals, according to a Syniverse spokesperson’s statement to Quartz.

Why Consumers Should Be Concerned (and Syniverse Held Accountable)

Now, while this may seem funny to some, creepy to others—legally, this is extremely problematic because SMS text messages SHOULD NOT be stored for that long let alone the ability for them to be transmitted (re-transmitted) at any time. So, why did Syniverse have months-long old messages just chilling on a server somewhere?

It is very likely Syniverse could face potential class-action lawsuits from consumers moving forward.

During an internal maintenance cycle last night, 168,149 previously undelivered text messages were inadvertently sent to multiple mobile operators’ subscribers,Syniverse said in its statement to Gizmodo. It also told The Washington Post that “maintenance caused the 168,149 previously undelivered text messages to be sent.

Well, two different stories here—which is it?

The company says its attributing the issue to a server failure back on February 14…of last year. They claim that the issue has been resolved but wants to review its internal processes to ensure it won’t happen again.

That’s all well and good, but there should most certainly be repercussions for the company. There’s no excuse for this to happen, because the company should have been reviewing its internal processes on the regular.

When it comes to holding tech giants, social media platforms, and data processors accountable for its behavior, it can’t just be an “after-the-fact” scenario—if you aren’t doing what you’re supposed to during your business operation, especially when you’re in a position of holding extremely sensitive and personal information, then you either shouldn’t have it, and/or be penalized harshly for the consequences of failing to properly maintain those systems.

Andrew "Drew" Rossow is a former contract editor at Grit Daily.

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