Several solutions received cash and acclaim, now FTC is pushing them to bring those solutions closer to market

Judges have selected winners in the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's "FTC Robocall Challenge". The challenge encouraged industry leaders and independent engineers/developers alike to come up with novel solutions for blocking automated spam phone calls.

A panel consisting of FTC Chief Technologist Steve Bellovin; U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chief Technologist Henning Schulzrinne; and Kara Swisher, Co-Executive Editor of All Things D, picked the winners.  The entrants were judged on whether their tool worked, how hard it would be to deploy, and how easy it would be to use.

Aaron Foss, a freelance software developer, and Serdar Danis, a computer engineer, tied in the individual challenge.  Both developers offered up similar solutions -- filtering software that employed a blacklist to block known robocalling numbers and whitelist to automatically allow trusted numbers.  
Both solutions also used CAPTCHA-style authentication to screen human phone calls from illegally placed robotic ones.  The filtering software could be placed on a mobile device, on a personal computer, or installed directly atop a service provider's voice traffic backbone.

The pair will split the $50,000 USD prize pot, with each developer receiving $25K USD.

[Image Source: Detroit Free Press/Newscom]

A pair of Google Inc. (GOOG) engineers won the team event (which allowed entries from organization of 10 or more people).  Google's Daniel Klein and Dean Jackson proposed a big data solution dubbed "Crowd-Sourced Call Identification and Suppression."  There was no monetary prize, but the pair does score some nice bragging rights and likely a thumbs up from their data giant employer, a company who loves free thinking.

It's unclear what the next step is, but presumably the winners will be encouraged to push their technology to market.  The FTC made it clear, though, that it was not endorsing the winners' products, merely looking to spur the discussion.  In total over 800 people submitted entries that the FTC ruled were valid attempts.

While U.S. federal telemarketing laws outlaw most robocalls looking to sell products (though the aforementioned political calls are legal).  Still the practice continues to occur (illegally) due to the potential for profit from the pesky mass marketing technique.

Unfortunately, federal laws very much allow robocalls that are not being used to market a product.  Politicians often use the annoying tactic to try to pester voters into voting pre-election.  In the last cycle both Barack Obama (D) and Mitt Romney (R) made massive use of robocalls trying to sway the more simple-minded members of the voting base to vote for them.  There's little interesting at the federal level to outlaw that kind of pesky robocall.

Source: FTC

"If they're going to pirate somebody, we want it to be us rather than somebody else." -- Microsoft Business Group President Jeff Raikes

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