The Washington Post

Find a way to block robocalls and win $50K


A view of the FTC building shown on June, 14, 2011in Washington, DC. (Bill O'Leary/WASHINGTON POST)

Hate those robotic marketing calls? Have a good idea for how to stop them? If so, the Federal Trade Commission wants to hear from you.

After years of using traditional regulatory tools to block billions of illegal marketing calls, the FTC is launching a public contest in search of new technical solutions.

The prize: $50,000.

“The FTC is attacking illegal robo-calls on all fronts, and one of the things that we can do as a government agency is to tap into the genius and technical expertise among the public,” said David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We think this will be an effective approach in the case of robo-calls because the winner of our challenge will become a national hero.”

The agency will accept entries between Oct. 25 and Jan. 17. Judges will score proposals based on workability (worth 50 percent), ease of use (25 percent) and the idea’s potential for a wide rollout (25 percent).

Applicants may submit ideas to block recorded marketing calls on landlines, cellphones or both. An entry that successfully stops both will be scored higher. The FTC says that many of those calls are deceptive or fraudulent. Such calls are illegal unless the marketer has prior written approval from the recipient.

Craig Timberg is a national technology reporter for The Post.
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