Print 44 comment(s) - last by superstition.. on Oct 25 at 6:58 PM

Contest will only stop "illegal" robocalls, i.e. those intended to sell a product or receive a donation

With just two weeks before Americans elect their next president, both incumbent Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are busy -- in digital form -- harassing beleaguered voters with robocalls.  Both candidates vowed not to funnel super political action committee (PAC) funds to pay for third-parties to conduct the practice that many find annoying, but both candidates -- awash in hundreds of million from a record-shattering campaign on both sides of the aisle to court special interests -- appear to have abandoned their promises.

But the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is offering a bit of solace to frustrated citizens.  It has created a "prize competition" called the "Robocall Challenge", which: intended to provide recognition to individuals, teams of individuals, for-profit legal entities and/or non-profit organizations (collectively, “Contestants”) for developing proposed technical solutions or functional solutions and proofs of concepts that can block illegal robocalls (each a “Solution”).

U.S. federal telemarketing laws outlaw most robocalls looking to sell products (though the aforementioned political calls are legal).  The competition focuses on block "illegal" calls, so it won't exactly offer relief from the advertising.

But for those with an axe to grind against the pesky automatons of the phone lines, you can win up to $50,000 USD yourself or as an organization/group of less than 10 individuals.

Robocall frustration
The FTC feels your pain. [Image Source: FTC]

The FTC will be providing participants with data to use in the study.  The Commission will be holding a Q&A session on the event on Oct. 25, the day the program kicks off.  The contest will run through January 17, 2013, at 5:00 pm ET, with winners announced in April.

Winners will be selected based on:
  • Whether their solution works (particularly on mobile devices) (50 percent of the score)
  • Ease of use (25 percent)
  • How easy it is to roll out (25 percent)
Not everyone is so intent on killing the robocaller, though.  University of Denver Political Science Professor Seth Masket in a recent interview with a CBS Corp. (CBS) station commented, "It’s really just a very inexpensive way to contact a lot of people at once.  You don’t even really need employees to run the thing. It’s so inexpensive to contact that one extra person that as long as you’ve persuaded even a handful of people, it can be seen as worth it."

We're guessing he won't be entering the contest.

Source: FTC [PDF]

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My Suggestion
By mherlund on 10/19/2012 3:17:32 PM , Rating: 4
My suggestion is a 2 part one.

As others may have stated, a mechanism needs to be in place (probably at the telcos) where caller ID numbers cannot be spoofed and must exist for a call to go through. Carriers then need offer the ability to block all unknown calls (shouldn't be a concern if the previous method works).

Once the call receiver knows the number is there and accurate, a Spam filter can be applied. This would be a global spam filter where multiple users need to mark the message as spam before it is actually blocked. Users could create their own spam group and/or sign up for the "community" one.

This spam filter concept is not that new and there are phone apps to do it. For a govt solution to work, telcos need to be forced to offer this option.

Side note, IMO, govt should not force telcos to do this, they should be able to offer this service as they choose.

RE: My Suggestion
By Schmide on 10/19/2012 3:19:36 PM , Rating: 2
You took my 50k by 20seconds. (see time on my post)

RE: My Suggestion
By nedsand on 10/23/2012 1:11:23 PM , Rating: 2
Good idea but it won't work in the real world. Look at how well spam filtering works (actually it's not bad anymore - but far from perfect). Plus you wouldn't want to have the telcos host the filter as it's a liability for them and any business using it. I manage the spam filters/black lists at work and it's a part time job trying to keep up with updates, configurations, retrieving good mail that was blocked and keeping one step ahead of the spammers. Also you can not have everyone use caller id. At my work and my wife's work when we call out from our desk phones all you see is "unknown number" displayed. We do not want direct extensions available to the public. If an outside person needs to get a hold of us they have to go through the automated or live operator.

"Let's face it, we're not changing the world. We're building a product that helps people buy more crap - and watch porn." -- Seagate CEO Bill Watkins

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