FTC offers $50,000 prize to stop illegal robocalls

By on October 19, 2012, 5:00 PM

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.




User Comments: 8

Got something to say? Post a comment
Win7Dev said:

Maybe I'll stop getting calls about lowering my interest rate from banks that I don't even have accounts with. I'm not even sure if the calls really are coming from the banks themselves anyway.

TorturedChaos, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

I was getting the "extended car warranty" one for a while. Finally I pressed 1 and talked to someone. Apparently an 83 Caprice Classic was too old to add a warranty too :P. So I told them not so politely never to call me again. They never have :P.

danhodge danhodge said:

Why not just give a phone number some kind of password?

So when someone asks you for your number, you say sure, and give them your password too... Obviously don't make people type it out more than once.

If they don't match - the call doesn't go through. This basically means noone can call you if you don't want them to

Trillionsin Trillionsin said:

Why not just give a phone number some kind of password?

So when someone asks you for your number, you say sure, and give them your password too... Obviously don't make people type it out more than once.

If they don't match - the call doesn't go through. This basically means noone can call you if you don't want them to

Congrats to the winner of the $50,000 prize!

Timonius Timonius said:

Call Display - I only answer unknown, private, 1-800 etc, numbers at my own risk ;p

Similar to danhodge's suggestion how about setting up a program to 'whitelist' callers where only known numbers can reach you.

Unfortunately for either method legitimate callers may get missed.

3DCGMODELER 3DCGMODELER said:

I have working on something for awhile... just need to get a few buggs worked out.....

I have gotten so many calls in the past few years, That I set a goal... to do something about it...

Will see soon enough, If I can get some bug squashing done, with a few buggs I am working around with this GUI of mine....

danhodge danhodge said:

Congrats to the winner of the $50,000 prize!

Well, it seems obvious to me, so there must be a reason why it hasn't been used. But I would be more than happy to take that

Upio said:

I have working on something for awhile... just need to get a few buggs worked out.....

I have gotten so many calls in the past few years, That I set a goal... to do something about it...

Will see soon enough, If I can get some bug squashing done, with a few buggs I am working around with this GUI of mine....

I'll build a GUI interface using Visual Basic, see if I can track an IP address!

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