Geeks Against Illegal Robocalls: Your Country Needs You

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) administers the Do Not Call register which counts 217 million numbers listed. While the FTC has the authority to go after callers who violate marketing rules, robocalls ignore the list and the calls keep coming. Enter the FTC with a contest to put a stop to this illegal activity, challenging techies to devise a solution that will block robocalls on landlines and mobile phones, with the ability to operate on proprietary and non-proprietary devices and platforms. Entries must propose technical or functional solutions and show proof of concept. The best entry will receive a $50,000 cash prize and retain ownership of the solution.

David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “We think this will be an effective approach in the case of robocalls because the winner of our challenge will become a national hero.”

Robocall providers exploit the internet to launch massive targeting. They merely require a connection to the Internet using Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) technology or “cloud” robocalls from online providers.

The FTC received 50,000 public complaints in 2010, 86,000 in 2011, and 98,000 to date in 2012.

With some VOIP accounts a business can make an unlimited number of calls within the United States for less than one hundred dollars a month. By focusing on one area code at a time, millions of calls to random phone numbers insure that at least some people will respond and persuaded into disclosing banking and other financial information.

A 2009 rule bans robocalls that promise debt assistance and cheap loans, unless one has given written permission to receive such solicitation from a specific company.

Informational automated calls from a charity, a local government agency, or an airline announcing a flight delay are exempt from this rule. However, there is an increase in calls that start out as informational but quickly turn into a sales pitch. This is illegal.

User caller-ID spoofing is used by illegal robocallers to avoid detection. When a person tries to call back the robocaller, they reach a disconnected number or some other party not related to the source of the original call.

The "robocall challenge" officially starts on Oct. 25 and ends on Jan. 17, 2013. The winner will be announced in April 2013. The money will be awarded to the person, team, or company with fewer than 10 employees, that develops the best robocall-blocking technology. The FTC says a successful entry must be easy to use, and work across different devices.

To enter the competition, visit the FTC website: