It's not clear if the Federal Trade Commission is throwing up its hands at the problem or just wants some new ideas about how to combat it, but the agency is now offering $50,000 to anyone who can create what it calls an innovative way to block that will block illegal commercial robocalls on landlines and mobile phones.
Officially the program is called the FTC Robocall Challenge, and it will be judged by Steve Bellovin, FTC Chief Technologist; Henning Schulzrinne, Federal Communications Commission Chief Technologist; and Kara Swisher of All Things Digital. A complete list of rules and frequently asked questions are available on Challenge.gov.
The FTC Robocall Challenge is free and open to the public. Entries will be accepted beginning on October 25, 2012, at 5:00pm ET, until January 17, 2013, at 5:00 pm ET. The winner or winners will be revealed next April.
The FTC said the prize will be awarded to an individual, team, or small corporation (10 employees or less) if a solution is developed based on the following criteria:
Additionally, organizations that employ more than 10 people may compete for the FTC's Technology Achievement Award, which does not include a cash prize.
As part of the challenge, the FTC announced it will provide participants with data on de-identified consumer complaints about robocalls made between June 2008 and September 2012. Challenge participants 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 has also been working with industry insiders and other experts to identify potential solutions. However, current technology still lets shady telemarketers to cheaply autodial thousands of phone calls every minute and display false or misleading caller ID information, the FTC said.
On October 25 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.
While there are legal measures in place to stop most robocalls, the use of the annoying automated calling process seems to be on the rise. The Challenge was announced at a hearing this week on what could be done to further tighten the rules.
The FTC defined the rules that outlawed most robocalls in 2009 has taken notice of the increase of late -- 2 million public complaints of violations in the past year alone.