FTC launches ‘Robocall Challenge’ to end telemarketing nightmare

Just how much do you hate those robo marketing calls that you get when you’re trying to relax at night? Are they a nuisance? A problem? Worse? Just how bad can robocalls even get, when it comes down to it, anyway? That’s when the Federal Trade Commission wants to know – and, even moreso, it wants to know what you’re prepared to do about it.

The FTC has announced a public contest entitled the FTC Robocall Challenge to find the best way to identify and block robotic marketing calls. The contest is described as something that challenges the general public to “create innovative solutions that will block illegal robocalls on landlines and mobile phones,” noting that the “vast majority of telephone calls that deliver a pre-recorded message trying to sell something to the recipient are illegal.”

David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, told the Washington Post that the Commission is “attacking illegal robo-calls on all fronts, and 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 that this will be an effective approach in the case of robo-calls, because the winner of the challenge will become a national hero.”

If the gratitude and admiration of your fellow Americans isn’t enough for you, there’s also a cash prize available; the FTC is putting up $50,000 in prize money for the best ideas, with proposals being scored by a panel of judges who will be looking for three main areas of interest: Workability, ease of use, and potential for mass production or roll out (The first of those will carry twice as much weight as the other two, according to the Challenge’s official rules). If no-one manages to hit all three marks, according to the FTC, there will be no prize awarded; if multiple proposals are deemed to be equally worthy, the $50,000 will be split amongst as many winners as necessary.

(There will also be a separate award, the Federal Trade Commission Technology Achievement Award, but that carries with it only bragging rights; the official rules of the Challenge list that prize as “recognition only,” somewhat sadly.)

Those entering the contest are inviting to submit proposals to block robo calling on landlines, cellphones or both, although the FTC points out that an entry that manages to stop calling on both will automatically be scored higher, so bear that in mind when thinking of your particular solution.

The Challenge “opens” in six days, with proposals being accepted between October 25 and January 17, 2013. For those wondering what to do with their next few months who also happen to be technical wizards, it would be unfair to tell you how to spend your time… and yet, we humbly submit that there’s nothing wrong with trying to better humanity through small things like this, when it comes down to it.

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