FTC offers $50,000 prize to stop illegal robocalls

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The Federal Trade Commission is calling upon the private sector to solve a modern-day plight: reliably detecting and eliminating robocalls to both landlines and cell phones. The FTC is offering a cool $50,000 prize to the person or company who develops the winning solution for its "Robocall Challenge".

The criteria set forth for the competition seems straight forward enough. The FTC asks three questions: Does it work? Is it easy to use? Can it be rolled out? It looks like brownie points are likely to be given for elegance, accessibility, and solutions that work within the boundaries of existing equipment and infrastructure.

In the U.S, automated telephone calls which deliver a pre-recorded message with commercial interests are illegal. Unfortunately, laws prohibiting this type of robotic shenanigans haven't done much to curb the public nuisance. According to the FTC, robocalls have been on the rise. This is likely due to ever-improving, inexpensive consumer technology which can turn someone's basement into a sophisticated, number-spoofing, make-shift robocall center.

Because this type of operation is increasing in sophistication, the technology and methods used to fight such devious marketing must also improve. If citizens continue to lose the robocall arms race, everyone with a phone risks living in a future world where their ears are assaulted by a daily onslaught of pre-recorded telemarketing messages.

Contests like these are a form of crowdsourcing -- an idea which attempts to leverage the creativity and abilities of many individuals to solve a problem. Other companies have employed a similar approach to solve certain problems, like Netflix's contest for programmers to improve its recommendation algorithm. Unfortunately for Netflix though, the results weren't quite what it was hoping for.

To answer questions about the contest, the FTC will be holding two hour-long discussions on Twitter and Facebook. The Twitter chat will begin on October 25 @ 1:00pm while the Facebook discussion is scheduled to begin directly afterward @ 2:00pm. 

Future participitants will want to check out the rules and FAQ before getting started.

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