Tulsa World, Okla., Action Line column
May 03, 2013 (Tulsa World - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The Federal Trade Commission announced April 2 that judges for its Robocall Challenge (tulsaworld.com/FTCRobocallChallenge) had selected two individual winners in a tie for the $50,000 prize for "best overall solution" to block illegal robocalls.
The challenge, issued Oct. 18, was designed to help solve this problem by "spurring innovation in the marketplace" and garnered 800 eligible submissions.
Robocalls: When you pick up the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it's a "robocall," says the FTC website. If the recording is a sales pitch (not a call from a health-care provider or nonprofit), and you haven't given written permission to get such calls from the telemarketer, they are illegal. They violate the Telemarketing Sales Rule and Telephone Consumer Protection Act, both banning robocalls.
The TSR established the FTC-maintained National Do Not Call Registry that prohibits telemarketers calling registrants for any reason -- and in the past 10 years robocallers have immunized themselves from federal prosecution by using the new technology "Caller ID spoofing" (introduced commercially in 2004). This is the ability for callers to hide their true phone numbers from Caller ID by masquerading as originating from a false number or even a federal agency or national business. FTC hopes to use the Robocall Challenge winning technology as the way to prosecute and shut down illegal robocallers.
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 users. (CAPTCHA is an acronym based on "capture" and stands for Completely Automated Public Turning test to tell Computers and Humans Apart).
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 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.
Brief descriptions of all the eligible entries are available on a the Robocall Challenge site. Many of the proposals submitted included long-term policy, regulatory, and technical ideas about how to stop illegal robocalls.
Submit Action Line questions by calling 918-699-8888, emailing phil.mulkins@TulsaWorld.com or by mailing them to Tulsa World Action Line, PO Box 1770, Tulsa OK 74102-1770.
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