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TheStreet Open House

FTC Announces Robocall Challenge Winners

Proposals Would Use Call Filter Software to Reduce Illegal Calls

WASHINGTON, April 2, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Federal Trade Commission announced that judges for the FTC Robocall Challenge selected two winners, in a tie for the $50,000 prize for Best Overall Solution to block illegal robocalls. The challenge, designed to help solve this problem by spurring innovation in the marketplace, garnered nearly 800 eligible submissions.

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.

Additionally, organizations that employ 10 or more people were eligible for the Robocall Challenge Technology Achievement Award, which does not include a monetary prize. Judges selected Daniel Klein and Dean Jackson from Google for their Crowd-Sourced Call Identification and Suppression solution.

"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, 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. The proposal from Klein and Jackson, like the Best Overall Solutions, would involve using automated algorithms that identify "spam" callers.

The judges, FTC Chief Technologist Steve Bellovin, FCC Chief Technologist Henning Schulzrinne, and Kara Swisher, Co-Executive Editor of All Things D, focused on technical considerations alone. They evaluated submissions based on the following criteria: Does it work? (50 percent); Is it easy to use? (25 percent); and Can it be rolled out? (25 percent).

Brief descriptions of all the eligible challenge entries are available on a submission gallery at robocall.challenge.gov. Many of the proposals submitted included long-term policy, regulatory, and technical ideas about how to stop illegal robocalls. FTC staff encouraged all participants to continue the conversation by publishing a more detailed, public overview of their ideas on the FTC.gov website. In addition, some of the submissions focused on what consumers are doing right now to reduce illegal robocalls. FTC staff compiled several tips from these submissions, and with the help of the Government Services Administration, produced this new video for consumers.

The FTC contracted with ChallengePost in August 2012 to administer the challenge and award the prize using fiscal year 2012 funds. The Commission launched the challenge in response to the growing number of robocall complaints by American consumers bombarded with prerecorded calls that are often unwanted and frequently deceptive. The challenge is part of an ongoing campaign against illegal, prerecorded telemarketing calls, and FTC enforcement efforts have stopped companies responsible for billions of illegal robocalls. Commission staff persists in aggressive law enforcement, and continues to work with industry insiders and other experts to identify potential solutions. For more information about all of the FTC's robocall initiatives, see www.ftc.gov/robocalls.

By selecting winners, the FTC isn't endorsing any particular products or services. Before implementing any service involving personal information, companies should conduct a thorough privacy review and must consider and comply with the federal and state privacy, consumer protection, and other laws that may apply.

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