Later this week, entries will begin to be accepted by the Federal Trade Commission, under a program called Challenge.gov, for methods to stop illegal commercial robocalls.
"The vast majority of telephone calls that deliver a prerecorded message trying to sell something to the recipient are illegal," writes the FTC in its call for proposals. "As technology has advanced over the years, so have the number of illegal robocalls." This is despite efforts such as the national Do Not Call registry, which has 217 million subscribers.
Solutions should block robocalls on landlines and mobile phones and can operate on a proprietary or non-proprietary device or platform and can be proposed technical solutions or functional solutions and proofs of concept, the FTC continues.;
The submission deadline is January 17, 2013, at 5 p.m.;EST. Judging will begin immediately after the submission period closes on January 17, 2013, at 5 p.m.;EST, and will end March 31, 2013 at 5 p.m.;EST. Winners will be announced in early April 2013. Judges Steve Bellovin and Henning Schulzrinne, Chief Technology Officers, Federal Communications Commission; and Kara Swisher, Co-Executive Editor, All Things Digital, will use the following criteria: Does it work (50%), is it easy to use (25%), and can it be rolled out (25%).
The selected solution, limited to companies with 10 or fewer employees,;will win $50,000 in cash, plus a trip to Washington, D.C., to present it, as well as opportunities for promotion, exposure, and recognition by the FTC. Notably, solvers will retain ownership of their solutions, meaning they could market them. Companies with more than 10 employees can compete but are not eligible for the cash prize. (Check out the official rules;and the FAQ.)
On Friday,;the FTC said it will host two live social media chats for 60 minutes each to answer questions about the challenge. "Chat participants can follow the @FTC Twitter handle and are encouraged to ask questions beginning at 1:00 pm ET on Twitter using the hashtag #FTCrobo. Immediately after the chat, at 2:00pm ET, staff will answer questions on the agency’s Facebook page," the FTC announced. The agency said it will also provide participants;with data on de-identified consumer complaints about robocalls made between June 2008 and September 2012. "Solvers interested in this data will receive periodic updates with contemporary data through December 31, 2012. The complaint data will include: date of call; approximate time of call; reported caller name; first seven digits of reported caller phone number; and consumer area code," the FTC said.
Robocalls have been increasing, according to the Los Angeles Times; it said that in July, the agency announced that complaints about automated calls had soared to 212,000 last April, compared with 65,000 in October 2010. This is despite the fact that the FTC has shut down companies responsible for 2.6 billion telemarketing calls since such calls were outlawed in 2009, but it can’t trace or block about 59% of phone spam. According to CNN, the number of consumer complaints about unwanted telemarketing calls soared 70% to an all-time record of 3,840,572 during fiscal year 2012.
This challenge is being offered through Challenge.gov, a program set up by the Obama administration in September 2010 that until now hasn't gotten a lot of coverage. According to the agency, this is the first time the FTC has participated in Challenge.gov. The site is;"an online challenge platform administered by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) in partnership with ChallengePost that empowers the U.S. Government and the public to bring the best ideas and top talent to bear on our nation’s most pressing challenges." It is similar to other crowdsourcing innovation sites in the private sector, such as Innocentive.
Now starting its third year of operation, Challenge.gov has offered more than 200 challenges posted by 45 departments and agencies, drawing responses from more than 16,000 citizen “solvers." With this particular challenge being a problem shared by so many, it looks to be the biggest yet.
Incidentally, for those of us barraged with calls asking for $3 donations for Gov. Romney and so on, political robocalls are not considered illegal. Sorry.