$50,000 in prizes offered for ‘robocall’ solution
The Federal Trade Commission gets bombarded with consumer complaints about those annoying "robocalls" that send pre-recorded messages to phones. In an effort to combat the problem, they're offering $50,000 in prize money to anyone who finds a solution.
Patty Hsue is a staff attorney at the Division of Marketing and the Division of Consumer Protection with the Federal Trade Commission. Hsue says they get 150,000 robocall complaints monthly.
"Consumers really, really hate these calls," she said.
She says a lot of these robocalls are peddling scams or other sorts of products that consumers really don't want. Also, Hsue says they are an invasion of people's privacy.
"You know, a lot of times you don't want to have to pick up that phone call, just to have a prerecorded message on the line," she said. "And a lot of times we hear from consumers who receive 10 to 12 of these robocalls every day, and it's really a nuisance."
The FTC is now calling on tech-saavy citizens who can craft a defense against robocalls. They've dubbed the contest: "Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back."
"The contest itself is really meant for contestants to produce a solution that really helps consumers block these calls, but not only block them but forward these calls," Hsue said.
She said they're looking to forward the calls to authorities, hopefully by the utilization of something called "honeypots."
"A honeypot is essentially just an information system that collects data," she said.
Hsue said it can be really simple, just a collection of phone lines that collects information about robocalls coming in, or it can be more complex and involve a system that collects analytics and evaluates the data that is coming in. She said honeypots are a really useful tool for both law enforcement and for other people who are looking at the robocall problem.
As for the contest and its $50,000 in prizes, the FTC is hoping it will encourage people to participate.
"The actual winner of the contest will get $25,000," Hsue said. "The second and third place runnerups will get about $10,500, and then the fourth and fifth place contestants will get about $2,000."
The submission deadline is June 15 at 10 p.m. eastern time for the qualifying round. The top five finalists will compete at DefCon, which is one of the oldest security conferences in the country and takes place from Aug. 6-9 in Las Vegas.
More information on the contest is available at ftc.gov/strikeback. Those who wish to participate and have questions can also email the FTC at firstname.lastname@example.org.