The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is responding to what they say is a huge surge in automated phone calls, or, “robocalls,” by offering a cash reward and prizes to the person, or group of people, who can thwart these calls in the “FTC Robocall Challenge.” According to the FTC, complaints about robocalls skyrocketed to a high of 212,000 this past April, compared to the last high of 65,000 complaints in October of 2010.
Winning groups of 10 or less will receive $50,000 in a cash reward and a trip to Washington, D.C. Groups with over 10 people will a different undisclosed award, but not the cash or trip. Winners will also be able to keep the intellectual property rights to the idea, with the FTC retaining the right to actively promote and feature the solution on its website for three years after the contest is over.
Contestants will need to come up with a way to block automated calls on both land lines and cell phones, and they will be judged on whether their idea actually works, the feasibility of the idea being able to be rolled out, and its ease of use. Contestants should keep in mind that certain automated calls should be omitted from the targeted block programs, namely political and polling groups, debt collectors, non-profit charitable organizations and customer service feedback requests. That said, we have some tricks to deal with these, which you can read about here.
(Yes, we agree – those are some of the most annoying calls, but they have legal protection. That said, we have some tricks to deal with these, which will be coming soon in a forthcoming article.)
This may seem an unconventional angle for the FTC to take, but the agency has been unsuccessful in tracing and blocking almost 60% of these obnoxious calls due to the calls being routed through caller ID spoofing, automatic dialers and voice-over-Internet protocols (VoIP). Says director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, David Vladeck, “One of the things that we can do as a government agency is to tap into the genius and technical expertise among the public. We think this will be an effective approach in the case of robocalls because the winner of our challenge will become a national hero.”
FTC Robocall Challenge is open to all U.S. citizens ages 18 and older, and contestants can enter as many ideas as they wish. The contest judges will be the FTC’s Chief Technologist, Steve Bellovin, the Federal Communications Commission Chief Technologist, Henning Schulzrinne, and Kara Swisher of All things D. The contest is free to enter, and entries must be submitted between October 25, 2012, at 5:00pm ET, until January 17, 2013, at 5:00 pm ET. For complete contest rules, visit the official contest website.