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FTC Offers $50,000 for Solution To Stop Robocalls
FTC Offers $50,000 for Solution To Stop Robocalls

By Jennifer LeClaire
October 19, 2012 1:50PM

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"The FTC is attacking illegal robocalls on all fronts, and one of the things that we can do as a government agency is to tap into the genius and technical expertise among the public," said the agency's David Vladeck. "We think this will be an effective approach in the case of robocalls because the winner of our challenge will become a national hero."
 



Have you ever received one of those annoying robocalls? Apparently, someone at the Federal Trade Commission has, too.

A commercial robocall is a telephone call that delivers a recorded sales message. These calls often are unwanted and frequently deceptive. Under the FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule, most commercial robocalls are illegal unless you've given the caller advance written permission to call them.

The FTC is challenging people like you and me to find a way to block the illegal commercial robocalls on landlines and mobile phones -- and the government is putting up a $50,000 prize to anyone who can stop the pre-recorded telemarketers from interrupting us.

"The FTC is attacking illegal robocalls on all fronts, and one of the things that we can do as a government agency is to tap into the genius and technical expertise among the public," said David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "We think this will be an effective approach in the case of robocalls because the winner of our challenge will become a national hero."

A Privacy Issue

We caught up with Jeff Kagan, a telecom industry analyst in Atlanta, to get his take on the contest. He told us it's a good idea to crowdsource a new solution to a re-emerging problem.

""We came up with a solution that worked with the Do Not Call list. I signed up for it and the barrage of calls that came stopped. It was wonderful. Suddenly over the last year or two it started creeping up again. Now it's as bad as it ever was," Kagan said. "The business community found a loophole. With VoIP, it doesn't cost that much to make a call so they call hoping you'll be interested."

Kagan sees it as a privacy issue, and one the government obviously doesn't have a solution for. The FTC said it was working with industry insiders and other experts to identify potential solutions, however, current technology still allows shady telemarketers to cheaply autodial thousands of phone calls every minute and display false or misleading caller ID information. Among these are the famously annoying calls from "Rachel From Cardholder Services."

Who Will Win?

Hosted on Challenge.gov, the robocall contest is a first of its kind. The U.S. General Services Administration hosts the platform in partnership with ChallengePost. Challenge.gov empowers the U.S. government and the public to bring the best ideas and top talent to bear on our nation's most pressing issues. Robocalls are the first topic to tackle.

Steve Bellovin, FTC chief technologist, Henning Schulzrinne, Federal Communications Commission chief technologist, and Kara Swisher of All Things D will serve as judges of the FTC Robocall Challenge, which is free to enter. The FTC is accepting entries beginning Oct. 25, 2012 through Jan. 17, 2013. If a winning solution is identified, the FTC will announce the winner early next April.

What criteria will the judges use? Fifty percent of the score will be based on whether it works. Whether or not it's easy to use and can be rolled out are each worth 25 percent of the score. The FTC will offer participants information about robocall complaints as part of the background.
 

Tell Us What You Think
Comment:

Name:

Rob V:

Posted: 2013-06-03 @ 6:52pm PT
I have to disagree with Thomas Mahoney of robotalker.com in Many ways. The DNC is a defacto opt out and robo callers like his use spoof technology to route calls in such a way to beat the system. I added myself to stop people like Thomas Mahoney from profiting at the expense of people like me who disagree with him. In fact, just tonight he called me a liberal because I disagreed with his racist point of view. The fact is robocallers are there to make money and how they make it they feel is up to them. I say shut them all down once and for all. Sort it out and license the companies with oversight. Violators should be charged $1000 per incident which will pay for the enforcement. Repeat offenders will in addition have to pay the consumer directly for those who are on the DNC and have asked to opt out to begin with. And one last thing: Please teach Thomas Mahoney of robotalker.com proper English. Come on, it's moot point not mute.

NewsFactorFan:

Posted: 2012-10-29 @ 2:09pm PT
One of services of the type Billy is talking about is CallMultiplier. They specifically avoid telemarketing on their system.

Billy Jones:

Posted: 2012-10-26 @ 12:10pm PT
Keep in mind that not all robocalls are bad. Some services provide a service for sports teams, churches, etc and send out automated calls that people want to receive. So blocking the bad and allowing the good becomes a difficult task.

Thomas Mahoney:

Posted: 2012-10-23 @ 6:26am PT
Guess what? I dont like commerails on TV ether if I am not looking for a roofer or carpert cleaning I dont like them. People fail to see that many people like the robo-calls becasue they use the services offered. The market dictates this as the sellers would not make the calls if people did not buy. The call that was made to without an OPT-OUT is currently illegal under existing law. They should have an automatic "Hit 9 to opt-out" at the end of each message. We have so many laws now that addtioanl laws wont make a difference to those people who are currently breaking the law. As I said before, the DNC list is a mute point. The calls that you get from the school are still welcomed by you even if you are on the DNC list. People now have to opt-in t receice a an automated call. if you want more details on FCC / FTC laws you can read about them on my site. http://robotalker.com I supply all the links and rules.

A fellow reader:

Posted: 2012-10-22 @ 9:54am PT
@Thomas: I disagree with you. My cell number is on the Do Not Call list, and yet I get daily calls from out-of-state from the robocallers. When I stayed on the line recently -- and had to hold for a couple of minutes to speak to a live person to respectfully request that the caller take me off the list, he simply hung up on me. Ugh. I hate the telemarketing robocallers and hope they can be eliminated. On the other hand, you bring up a good point that we sometimes do get robocalls from someone we want/need to hear from. For example, the schools use robocallers to alert parents to important info and our dentists use them to remind us of appointments. It would be nice if whatever solution is developed will allow opt-in robocallers, but not the evil robocallers that keep annoying us everyday!

Thomas Mahoney:

Posted: 2012-10-22 @ 9:47am PT
Steve Wilson needs to relax. Next he will be asking for the death penalty for automated callers. There are already requirements for OPT-OUT for robo calls. If the current laws were enforced then new laws would not be needed. So now the government needs to protect us from annoying phone calls? What is next Steve, laws against rude people? Next time someone steals your banking info and the bank can't alert you with an automated call to a large purchase, you will be yelling to regulate banks for letting it happen.

Thomas Mahoney:

Posted: 2012-10-22 @ 9:39am PT
This is stupid because people can opt-in and be on the do not call list. Recipients might allow (opt-in) the local car dealership, doctor, dentist, a web page, to call them with specials and promotions and the $50K system will never know. Also this: "These calls often are unwanted and frequently deceptive." is simply NOT TRUE! Most robo-calls are small business who cannot afford TV or Radio advertising. THANKS TO THE GOVERNMENT AGAIN FOR STOPPING SMALL BIZ AND ALLOWING POLITICIANS AN EXEMPTION FOR THE HIGHLY EFFICIENT WAY TO ADVERTISE. THE DNC list does not even matter anymore because all automated calls are illegal if connect is not given by recipients.

Editor's Note:

Posted: 2012-10-20 @ 11:17am PT
@Jeff: Here's a link from the FTC for more info on the Robocall Challenge:

http://robocall.challenge.gov

jeff reichert:

Posted: 2012-10-20 @ 11:11am PT
where to send ideas?

Steve Wilson:

Posted: 2012-10-19 @ 3:41pm PT
Our government claims it can track terrorists to caves in Afghanistan. Why can't they track down a telemarketer? Once found, $10,000 fine per call. Confiscation of all robocall equipment. If calls are from out of the country, require phone companies to block all calls from those countries until they clean up their acts.

Julia Keating:

Posted: 2012-10-19 @ 2:49pm PT
Contact Apple, maybe they can come up with an iRobo-Block App.!



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