FTC Presents $50K Engineering Challenge: Block Illegal Robocallers

I, for one, hope that a prize of $50 000 is sufficient to entice someone to offer a practical solution to the ever increasing scourge of illegal robocalling (pdf) here in the US.

Last week, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission announced that as part of its ongoing campaign against illegal, pre-recorded telemarketing calls it was going to conduct an online contest beginning this week called the FTC Robocall Challenge to find the best technical or functional solutions and proofs of concept to block these calls on both landlines and mobile phones, if possible 

The FTC is offering $50 000 for the “best overall solution” which is determined using the following criteria:

  •     Does it work? (50 percent)
     
  •     Is it easy to use? (25 percent)
     
  •     Can it be rolled out? (25 percent)

The cash prize, however, will be awarded only to an individual, team or to a firm employing fewer than 10 people. Larger organizations may compete for the FTC’s Technology Achievement Award, but no moeny will be awarded.

The FTC apparently has decided to go the public challenge route because while it has been “working with industry insiders and other experts to identify potential solutions,” the solutions being offered haven’t proven to be effective.

For those interested, you can go to the following links to see the FTC challenge rules, FAQ pages, evaluation criteria details, FTC robocall complaint data and other resources, and what information needs to be submitted. For instance, you don’t need to offer a solution to block both landline and mobile robocalls, although you will be scored lower if you don’t offer a comprehensive solution.

In addition, on Thursday of this week which is when the contest officially begins, the FTC will host two live social media chats for 60 minutes each to answer questions about the challenge. Last week, the FTC hosted an FTC Robocall Summit that also has information on the problems of robocalling, the current state of blocking technology, and the challenge itself.

What I would really like to see in addition to this effort is a decision to stop legal robocalling by political parties and charities.  These are now as bad as the illegal calls.

All challenge proposals must be submitted by 17January 2013. The winners will be announced around 1 April 2013.

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