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FTC Sees Hope in Crowdsourced Anti-Robocall Proposals
FTC Sees Hope in Crowdsourced Anti-Robocall Proposals

By Jennifer LeClaire
April 2, 2013 1:23PM

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"The solutions that our winners came up with have the potential to turn the tide on illegal robocalls, and they show the wisdom of tapping into the genius and technical expertise of the public," said the FTC's Charles Harwood. "We're hoping these winning proposals find their way to the marketplace soon, and will provide relief to millions of American consumers."
 

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FTC
Robocalls
Crowdsourcing



Maybe there is hope of stopping those annoying robocalls after all. At least the Federal Trade Commission seems to think there are some promising solutions to put an end to the dinner-interrupters.

The FTC in October launched a contest challenging people like you and me to find a way to block illegal commercial robocalls on landlines and mobile phones. Now, the government is paying out a $50,000 prize to the ones it believes can stop the telemarketers from interrupting us.

The FTC Robocall Challenge selected two winners, in a tie for the $50,000 prize for Best Overall Solution to block illegal robocalls. Serdar Danis and Aaron Foss will each receive $25,000 for their proposals, which both focus on intercepting and filtering out illegal prerecorded calls using technology to "blacklist" robocaller phone numbers and "whitelist" numbers associated with acceptable incoming calls. Both proposals also would filter out unapproved robocallers using a CAPTCHA-style test to prevent illegal calls from ringing through to a user.

Filtering Robocalls

"The solutions that our winners came up with have the potential to turn the tide on illegal robocalls, and they show the wisdom of tapping into the genius and technical expertise of the public," said Charles Harwood, acting director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "We're hoping these winning proposals find their way to the marketplace soon, and will provide relief to millions of American consumers harassed by these calls."

Danis's proposal, titled Robocall Filtering System and Device with Autonomous Blacklisting, Whitelisting, GrayListing and Caller ID Spoof Detection, would analyze and block robocalls using software that could be implemented as a mobile app, an electronic device in a user's home, or a feature of a provider's telephone service.

Foss's proposal, called Nomorobo, is a cloud-based solution that would use "simultaneous ringing," which allows incoming calls to be routed to a second telephone line. In the Nomorobo solution, this second line would identify and hang up on illegal robocalls before they could ring through to the user.

Will it Work?

But Jeff Kagan, a telecom industry analyst in Atlanta told us when the contest launched that although he was glad to see crowdsourcing employed in the effort, he wasn't holding out much hope that anything could stop the robocalls.

"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 told us. "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 still 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."
 

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