Stop robocalls, win $50k. FTC public contest.

Think You Know How To End Robocalls? You Could Win $50,000 – The Consumerist “There will be three judging criteria for the competition: Does it work? (weighted at 50%); Is it easy to use? (25%); Can it be rolled out? (25%).”

Also at Find a way to block robocalls and win $50K - The Washington Post “The agency will accept entries between Oct. 25 and Jan. 17.”

Rules | FTC Robocall Challenge FTC Robocall Challenge Official Rules – (the “Official Rules”)

4th criteria should be “can it be adapted to telemarketers and pollsters”

I think I could design something like this but I am not sure if it is worth it for 50K. I would rather patent and sell it myself. My idea is simple. It could be done in software (mainly for cell phones) or a small add-on box (mainly for land lines). When someone calls a number, it first goes to a ‘live person’ verifier. The person is instructed to enter an additional one or two digit number for verification. If the code is entered correctly, they call is put though. If not, it is simply disconnected.

Sure, it could be beaten by a custom coded robodialer but I am not sure it would be worth it for anyone to try. The verification routine could also be designed so that it would be extremely difficult for a robodialer to get right (e.g. 'Enter the second number in this series for caller verfication: 1,9,8).

When you get the landline one done please post here.
I’m in for 2, one for me and one for my parents.

That something could be run to distinguish telemarketers from “legitimate” political/charity calls is total fantasy. There is no difference between the groups except in terms of clout in Congress. (Which is why there’s exemptions to the no-call list, nevermind how consumers feel about it.)

The only way to stop it is to run longterm investigations. Follow the money, find the ISPs that are doing the VoIP service, etc.

Oh, and have Florida do something about their fraud laws. That state alone is responsible for the overwhelming majority of phone and mail scams.

I don’t answer calls from 8xx numbers (of which I’ve gotten 2 in the past week on my cell phone). I know someone who has programmed their phone not to ring if it is not on their whitelist, but send it directly to the answering machine, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. But I’ve often wondered if there were two such people, there is no way they could call one another. Maybe it could be programmed so that any number you have called is added to your whitelist.

My idea involves a baseball bat, a rabid chimp and Vise-Grips.

You would subject a rabid chimp to robocallers!? The cruelty!

It seems like it would be easy to differentiate between humans and machines. “Press random digit to continue”, or something like that.

The real challenge is this:

The FTC site mentions complaint data that is available on request. I assume that it’s a list of numbers that there have been complaints against. You could simply block all of those numbers but that wouldn’t stop ALL such calls, and you’d need a way to update the block list over time. A cellphone app could handle this. Landlines would be trickier. I suppose you’d need a box between the phone and the wall.

They already have machines that can listen to you talk and parse your words.

If you’re just going to ask them to press some keys, that could be worked around pretty easily.

There’s no technical solution to the problem as stated. The best solution is to simply make a phone that only rings when it’s a known and trusted caller. Everyone else can leave a message.

Any solution could be worked around eventually. The question is how much expense and effort is it worth to the robocallers.

  1. Whitelist/blacklist. Caller ID is trivially forged. Given that the FTC is requiring calls from political and charity groups to get thru, spammers can always just fake those numbers.

  2. Robo vs. human. Lots of legitimate companies use robo callers. We get them from our HMO to remind us about appointments and Rxs. Stores to tell us something is ready. Etc.

Throw in the robo calls from political groups and charities that must be allowed thru, and it’s clear that stopping robo calls is outside the parameters of this contest.

You need unforgeable (cryptographic level) two-way verification certificates exchanged in the “header” of the call before it’s allowed to ring. Certs would be sold by a Verisign like company who would be responsible for assigning/revoking them. (Making it easier to track down who purchased a cert and abused it.) The amount of tech needed to implement this for every phone type in the country is mind boggling.

There was something sort of like that already - I can remember back in the 80s a friend I had gave me a card with a couple numbers written on it, and I needed to enter those at a voice prompt to get to ring through. It was separate from an answering machine function as sometimes he answered and sometimes I got a machine to leave a message.

I use youmail to screen calls, I can set personalized outgoing messages so when I catch a bill collector for the guy who had my cell number before I did, I use the verizon this number is no longer in service message. I have some silly outgoing messages for people I know. After I set the outgoing message for spammers or collection agencys I change them to go directly into voicemail and they never ring on that number again.

I vote for this idea, even if it doesn’t involve flamethrowers.

This is along the lines I was thinking. Kind of like the way SSL works. Of course the issue is that every user is it’s own server, and would need it’s own certificate.

I suppose you could have tiered certificates and you could automatically block/allow certain ones. So someone with a regular old “user” certificate might be automatically allowed, as it’s just a regular Joe calling you. Someone with a business level cert would also be automatically allowed, as in order to maintain their cert they can’t be abusing the system. Anyone without a cert, gets auto blocked.

I’d rather deal with robocalls than have captcha’s for a phone call.

The limiting factor in POTS changes is the “granny problem”. You can’t expect old people with landlines from the 40s to update squat.

I was thinking that for standard residential switches, the cert and verification stuff is done at the local switching office. (Both incoming and outgoing.) Granny doesn’t have to change a thing. Of course, if someone is operating a robo caller off a residential line, the teleco will want to shut it down anyway cause they want a business line fee. Businesses would be more directly tied to certs but presumably still run out of the switching office for the smaller stuff.

But looking at how spammers quickly obtain IP addresses/domain names from ISPs and move on once found, working a cert system for phone numbers would run into a lot of the same problems. They’d have to be cheap and easily available, which would make them essentially disposable.

And why would the telco operating that switching center want to help you evade any phone calls? That’s what they are in business to sell.

Google voice already does this for me.

Step 1 - remove the ability to mask or spoof incoming phone numbers.
Step 2 - Allow the recipients to “Vote them off the Island”. The recipient can press #6 (or whatever) during the phone call. The service provider forwards a copy of that list to the FCC every month, where the lists are combine.
Step 3 - the top 5% get put into a Federal Do Not Allow to Call list. All suppliers must block those numbers, unless the call recipient opps into getting them.

But Step 1 is the important part. Why the heck should call originators be able to block or spoof their ID? If you want to talk to me, first identify yourself.