SMS Regulatory Compliance: What You Need to Know About Text Messaging

Suk Kim Senior Vice President and General Counsel

With high open and read rates, SMS is too valuable a marketing tool to ignore. However, according to a recent poll conducted by Urban Airship, 30% of marketers are hesitant to adopt SMS because of compliance concerns.

As daunting as SMS compliance requirements may seem, when done correctly, SMS can be a powerful messaging tool to reach and engage with your customers.

Here are some features and processes we have included as part of our SMS offering that you can use to help you start your SMS marketing strategy.

Some Background on SMS Regulation

There are different regulation laws that cover SMS, such as the U.S. Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL) and the EU Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive 2002, and the key requirement for SMS marketing messages in many countries is that it is permission-based. This means that a business must obtain the consumer’s consent before sending an SMS message and must provide reasonable methods for the consumer to revoke consent.

Under the TCPA, a consumer must provide express written consent after receiving clear disclosure before a business can send marketing text messages. The disclosure can take the form of a call-to-action that prompts the consumer to opt-in. There are also specific requirements on how brands receive the digital consent, and for this Urban Airship recommends a double opt-in, which is supported by our platform.  

Urban Airship Supports Several Opt-in Methods for SMS:

  • Double Opt-In for Mobile Phone Opt-In– In response to a call to action from the brand, a consumer texts “JOIN” from their mobile device. This triggers the Urban Airship SMS to send a double opt-in request (with adjustments made if requested by the brand)
  • Double Opt-In for Non-Mobile Phone Opt-In – To initiate a double opt-in when a consumer opts in to receive SMS messages via a website, app, paper form or any means other than sending a text from the mobile phone, the brand uploads that opted-in phone number to the Urban Airship platform. This triggers Urban Airship SMS to send a double opt-in request. The consumer doesn’t get added to the opted-in list until they respond with a “Y.” Once added to the list, Urban Airship SMS sends an automatic confirmation alert.

Urban Airship also gives brands options on how they want to manage to opt-in:

  • Uploaded to Urban Airship SMS via API –After the consumer opts in to receiving SMS messages, the phone number and opt-in date/time are then passed to Urban Airship, and Urban Airship SMS tracks the opt-in date/time in our database along with the phone number.
  • Uploaded to Urban Airship via CSV File – After the consumer opts in to receiving SMS messages, the phone number and opt-in date/time are then passed to Urban Airship by the brand via the Urban Airship Message Composer, and Urban Airship SMS tracks the opt-in date/ time in our database along with the phone number.
  • Transactional Messages – Transactional messages are messages that are closely related to the service being provided, such as delivery updates for a package or appointment reminders. Once the consumer provides the brand with legally appropriate consent to receive transactional messages, the brand triggers sending the transactional message by providing the phone number and opt-in date to Urban Airship SMS via our API.

The Option to Opt-out Is Just as Important as the Option of Opting In

Urban Airship supports these opt-out methods for SMS:

  • Mobile Device Originated Opt-Out Request – When a consumer texts the brand with a keyword like STOP (or any opt-out keyword as specified by the CTIA), Urban Airship SMS automatically responds with a confirmation and adds an opt-out date/time to our database. If the consumer decides to opt in again, the Double Opt-In or Brand Managed Opt-In methods describe above will register a new opt-in date.
  • Opt-Out via Website or App – If a consumer changes their preferences in a Preference Center—or in some other way via the brand’s website or app—the brand must pass the opt-out information to the Urban Airship platform using the Urban Airship API. Urban Airship then adds the opt-out date/time to our database.
  • Carrier Deactivation Handling – Mobile network operators (like AT&T, Verizon, etc.) provide a list of deactivated phone numbers on a daily basis (i.e., consumers who have disconnected service with that operator). Urban Airship SMS automatically uninstalls these numbers (removes them from our database entirely) so that the brands don’t inadvertently message the wrong person if that number gets reassigned.

Some Things to Keep in Mind:

Make sure to maintain all consent records that provide relevant details. Urban Airship makes it easy to do with reports that give brands the ability to view opt-in and opt-out status for consumers who have provided consent to receive SMS messages from the brand. It’s also important to drill down to see details — and/ or stream opt-in and opt-out events into other business systems.

Make sure to do your research. In addition to country-specific laws and regulations governing SMS messaging, industry groups have published best practice guidelines for companies engaged in text marketing. These include the Mobile Marketing Association’s Consumer Best Practices for Messaging and the wireless industry association CTIA’s Short Code Monitoring Program.

Please note that the above content is provided for information purposes only and is not intended to and should not be relied on as legal or compliance advice. Please consult with your organization’s legal counsel or regulatory compliance team for compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.


Let us know how we can help make your text messaging strategy rock-solid

Contact Us

See for Yourself

Get a Personalized Demo of Our Customer Engagement PlatformGet a Demo