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Government Spam Wireless Networking Your Rights Online

FTC Offers $50,000 For Best Way To Stop Robocalls 614

coondoggie writes "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 illegal commercial robocalls on landlines and mobile phones."
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FTC Offers $50,000 For Best Way To Stop Robocalls

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  • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi AT evcircuits DOT com> on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:04AM (#41703709) Homepage

    It seems the best way to make corporations comply is to have rules that have teeth. Regardless of what you're going to implement, if you're not planning on executing it, it doesn't matter.

    There are rules, enforce them. If it's not enough, make the whole foodchain (corporations that advertise and service providers that do the dirty work ) that supplies such robocalls pay for it - 10% of their yearly income to begin with and $1,000 per call.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:05AM (#41703717)

    Sieze all company assets, pierce the corporate veil, go after the owners, fine them to the tune of 10x gross revenue.

    Also, they are advertising or selling something. Make the company that makes/sells the product responsible for the actions of their contracted sales force.

    See sentence 1.

  • Re:Death Penalty (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kergan ( 780543 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:05AM (#41703729)

    No need to be that extreme... A hefty fine for companies that do it and another to the carriers that put the calls through should be enough.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:06AM (#41703743)

    Allow the recipient of the call to charge for picking up. Obviously you wouldn't charge your friends anything, but a robocall you could charge up to $5 maybe. The telco would do the collection and accounting.

  • Ok, how about this (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:07AM (#41703753)

    Have some feds buy some land lines and cell phones. Give them a few credit cards. Then when the robocall comes in, answer it and buy whatever they are selling.

    Track the transaction, figure out who is responsible, and then arrest them.

    If they are in another country, contact that government and have them arrest them. If they won't, sanctions. If that doesn't work threaten to cut their cable.

  • Money. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:09AM (#41703771)

    How about a simple small minimum charge per phonecall from the phone companies? They make more money, robocallers can't afford the premium on call-spamming, customers will hardly notice the difference, everybody wins.

  • by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:13AM (#41703791)

    fantastic. when I want to put my competitors out of buisness all I have to do is pay for some robocalls advertising their products.

  • Re:Solution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jkflying ( 2190798 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:16AM (#41703823)

    Are they paying you to tap into your wifi? Did you give them express permission to do so? No? Well, then, you made a bad analogy.

  • by gelfling ( 6534 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:18AM (#41703857) Homepage Journal

    I get tons more of those.

  • by jkflying ( 2190798 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:18AM (#41703859)

    You also need to buy and ship their products and use the fed's CC to transfer money into *their* account. Yeah, not that simple.

  • by Kolisar ( 665024 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:18AM (#41703861)

    I agree with the Hefty fine, but I think that the fine should be a calculated as a percentage of the company's worth, with a minimum of $200,000 if the company is not worth anything. Then a fairly large percentage (25%), that way, a large company that has 100's of millions of dollars will not just laugh off a $50,000 fine. The fine has to truly hurt the company for it to be a deturrent.

  • Simple (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:22AM (#41703911) Homepage

    Set up and advertise a number.

    If people get a call they didn't solicit, encourage them to dial that number. It can be automated and will list the previous X calls to their number, with time, date and duration. Let them mark those calls as spam or not.

    Collect the results nationally, the ones who are spam could easily be shut down in a matter of minutes by distributing a list of numbers that have seen a sharp rise in the number of complaints against them.

    Additionally, callers can use it as a blacklist tied into their telco so that numbers they have PERSONALLY flagged can never, ever, ever again dial their number even if it's not accepted as "spam" on a national scale.

    Then enforce valid Caller-ID numbers for even international calls even if they are never displayed to the end caller. Anyone spoofing a Caller-ID (or allowing Caller-ID's on their network to be spoofed by not just IGNORING what the sender has sent but replacing it with the Caller-ID info of the end transit) that's not been assigned to them loses all their connections.

    A couple of bits of legislation, an automated call centre (which shouldn't be hard to set up for those people COMBATTING automated call centres), and you're done.

    Sure, some will still get through, but will be killed quickly, will be nowhere near as profitable, will have real consequences, will stop the majority of users being subjected to it, and will look like you're actually getting off your backside and doing something about the problem.

  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:23AM (#41703927) Homepage Journal

    You know, the phone system is computerized now. They know who called who when. They claim they don't if you call and complain about a harassing call because they don't want to deal with you.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:24AM (#41703951)

    It isn't effective because it isn't done in public. Back in the good old days you'd strap a crook to a rack and pull out his innards in the middle of a town square. Then you'd use a couple of horses and pull of his limbs, which you would display all around town. That scared the shit out of people. Nowadays all that you do is give a lad a couple of injections in front of maybe a dozen people. People can get "deterred" by reading the news of the event if they want. Waste of time if you ask me. If you want to deter crime, then the criminals-to-be need to hear the screaming.

  • Re:Solution (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:25AM (#41703957)

    That's the most practical way.

    As a customer I'd like the same set of solutions available to me with e-mail. But the phone company in this day and age still pretends like it can't possibly know the origin of every phone call, assign it a number and name, and put it on the Caller ID. I can see 100% of the IP addresses my computer deals with on the Internet yet the Caller ID is somewhere under 30% on properly identifying callers -- not just telemarketers and spammers but also friends and family on cellphones. Presumably the phone company knows who everybody is when it's time to bill, yeah?

    Make Caller ID work for every call and a free part of everybody's telephone service. Don't allow anybody but the phone companies to set this information and create/enforce meaningful penalties if the call origin information is falsified. Require phone companies to create a (free) means for customers to hit a few keys on the telephone to report a call as "spam". Allow the FTC to use the reported phone numbers with the greatest number of reports as their guide when enforcing the Do Not Call list. Require the phone company to allow customers to create a whitelist of phone numbers they want through, a blacklist of phone numbers they don't, and some degree of flexibility in this system that lets customers say "don't allow incoming VoIP calls from out of the country that aren't on the whitelist".

    This would actually clean up the pool fast.

  • by rtfa-troll ( 1340807 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:28AM (#41703991)
    The problem is that most of the real difficult companies are hiding their numbers and identities. Any solution to that is going to reduce the usefulness of the phone system because it will allow unscrupulous bigger operators to block calls from certain origins (e.g. international calls routed through competing operators). Probably the only solution is some kind of IVR [] administering an audio CAPTCHA [] before allowing a phone to ring.
  • Re:Death Penalty (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dywolf ( 2673597 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:34AM (#41704045)

    Dear FTC,

    Grow a pair, ban robo-calls, and follow through on enforcement.
    You can send me my check at your convenience.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:35AM (#41704051)

    For the phone networks, it should be trivial to detect that a single caller is calling hundreds of different numbers where the other side of the line is always the first to disconnect the call, typically when the full (repetitive) message is still in full play/hasn't been fully delivered yet. That should suffice to flag such a caller as harasser/spammer.

    In addition, humans will typically call mostly people they know, whereas robocallers (and spammers in general) do the opposite, which is to mostly call strangers that they don't know. (Don't tell me the phone companies don't already have your network of contacts/social network stored somewhere... I don't buy it).

  • by OdinOdin_ ( 266277 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:46AM (#41704153)

    DTMF activated question and answer phone message. i.e. you record a message "Please dial the answer to this maths question to be connected; what is 25 + 17 ? Dial this into the phone now." You setup a simple pin that then actually starts the ringer on the phone when entered.

    With a phone address book that will bypass this for known callers and numbers (and maybe recent callers that passed). Not really innovative but effective enough. Solution should be simple/cheap/one-chip-digital.

    You can then extend this to have the phone dial back a configured number (free phone, 800 number) with the DTMF of 1 in 100 numbers that call you and fail the test.

    Of course this shifts the problem to simply pay more money for cheap labor answering challenge questions but the only way to defeat this use of the telephone network is to make it economically nonviable.

    This same problem domain as SPAM email, we only needs to make every sender incur a cost to send and CPU power can be that cost, just implement hashcash inside SMTP protocol and the receiver gets to decide how hard (computationally) the problem is, allow the client/sever to exchange cookies to setup good will and reputation over time with many transactions. SPAM problem solved. Now we just need a compute mathematical algorithm that works where one end can create a maths computation problem and compute the solution (by knowing all the data) in very short amount of time, but then hand the problem to the other end to solve (by removing some information) and make is scalable exponentially and iteratively to it keeps working a CPU power gets better. Sure botnets can give them this CPU resource but now the infected user will notice when their CPU is being maxed out and probably get it cleaned sooner!

  • by dargaud ( 518470 ) <(slashdot2) (at) (> on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:48AM (#41704191) Homepage
    That's a good solution. Another one would be to require the phone companies to have a 'declare spam' number. After receiving a spam call, you call that number and simply say "the last caller was a scammer". They are obliged to track down the number (even if hidden), put it in a database, and after enough complaints show up they have to investigate, fine them and cut them off.
  • by cdrudge ( 68377 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:54AM (#41704265) Homepage

    The problem is that most of the real difficult companies are hiding their numbers and identities

    BAN anonymous calls or otherwise hiding their numbers and identities. I can't think of a single legitimate reason why a call should be anonymous.
    REQUIRE carriers to supply valid CID information or otherwise allow calls to be identified.
    REQUIRE carriers to have valid information that matches a phone number with a company.

  • by Senior Frac ( 110715 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:57AM (#41704295) Homepage

    Oh that's easy.

    Huge fines, but with the added requirement that the phone company must pay it if the caller cannot be identified.

    "The phone company" being the company where the trace gets lost. The concept that the sender is responsible for provisioning his own caller id is a ludicrous design flaw. Something more akin to ANI is needed (host based)... plus some very aggressive regulatory enforcement. It's a political 3rd rail, however.

  • by realsilly ( 186931 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:57AM (#41704301)

    Kill the rule that allows for automated messages to be sent, ALL PHONE CALLS MUST BE FROM A LIVE PERSON WHO CAN INTERACT WITH THE RECEIVER.

    Stop allowing Phone Companies to be Billing agencies for other companies.

    Stop allowing call spoofing, where you receive a call and it's a hand up or something else, you call back and you get the Telephone company message "Sorry but this number is no longer in service."

    Read the fucking web, there are thousands of gripes about robocalling violations.

    Stop all Surveys and Presidential robocalls also.

    Stop allowing companies to SELL OUR FUCKING INFORMATION.

    Fine the telemarketer Managers and the companies large fees.

    Trace the calls. You already monitor all of our lives anyways.

    Repeat violators will be SHOT.

    Don't let out of country business buy phone services in the US.

    Let Anonymous go after them. They are great at track people down who piss them off, and their retaliation will be swift and painful.

    Lets start with some of those.

  • by shoemilk ( 1008173 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @09:01AM (#41704343) Journal
    Despite such an effective deterrent, it's funny how new criminals seemed to pop up anyway. The way you say it, it's almost like there was no crime back then.
  • by RabidReindeer ( 2625839 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @09:06AM (#41704399)

    It isn't effective because it isn't done in public. Back in the good old days you'd strap a crook to a rack and pull out his innards in the middle of a town square. Then you'd use a couple of horses and pull of his limbs, which you would display all around town. That scared the shit out of people. Nowadays all that you do is give a lad a couple of injections in front of maybe a dozen people. People can get "deterred" by reading the news of the event if they want. Waste of time if you ask me. If you want to deter crime, then the criminals-to-be need to hear the screaming.

    One of the signature characteristics of criminals is that they're "special". Only Other People get caught. I'm too smart. So seeing Other People get executed in gross and painful ways does little to deter criminals, although it may make them think about using more extreme measures to avoid getting caught.

    On the other hand, we're well aware of the desensitizing effects of repeated spectacles. When a Drawing and Quartering replaces Monster Truck Pulls as a place to take the kiddies, don't be surprised if the kiddies end up with rather brutish ideas of how to interact with other people.

    While I would definitely enjoy seeing a few telemarketers being given an up close and personal exploration of their entrails, this kind of stuff isn't really about punishment, it's about revenge. Consider the quality of life in countries where revenge is the accepted means of dealing with injury. Even the so-called civilized ones. Where simply riding the bus can turn out to be an unexpected adventure.

  • *99 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dcnjoe60 ( 682885 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @09:07AM (#41704411)

    Just allow the person receiving the call to hit *99 and have it charge a fee back to the robocaller. If the phone in question is on a do not call list, the caller gets assessed a fee for violating it. Nothing persuade a change in behavior more than having to pay money.

  • Re:Death Penalty (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bill_the_Engineer ( 772575 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @09:28AM (#41704675)

    but, but, the politicians (that determine our salary and job security) need them! Won't someone please think of the politicians?

    Which is why the politicians underfund enforcement of the current regulations. As a bonus, they pass new laws that still won't be able to be enforced to make themselves look good for re-election. It's a win-win. They look good to the electorate using sound bites on the news (without any real investigation being done by the "journalists" that work at "news" rooms today), and they keep their contributors happy by not actually following through by enforcing these laws.

  • by NevarMore ( 248971 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @09:37AM (#41704793) Homepage Journal

    This is how we lose our freedoms. An annoyance leads to bans and requirements that impact much more important matters.

    rtfa-troll points out below that anonymous calls are vital for tipsters and whistleblowers. Are you willing to sacrifice that very important check for the sake of not getting a robocall?

    More importantly, there are bans and requirements in place *now* that should prevent these robocalls from happening. Where did you get the idea that criminals follow the law?

  • Re:Death Penalty (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dead_user ( 1989356 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @09:55AM (#41705055)
    I think what he was saying was that the calls in questions are already "banned". It's enforcement that they are having trouble with. Making the calls "more illegal" doesn't really mean anything if you can't catch them because they are obfuscating their number.
  • by jbolden ( 176878 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @10:56AM (#41705949) Homepage

    I can't think of any reason that VOIP providers wanting to call the PSTN shouldn't be paying for legitimate SIP handoffs from a carrier. I don't have any problem with banning VOIP -> PSTN fee free calls.

    People use phones to report drug dealers to the police

    If people want to make confidential calls using the PSTN there are pay phones. That system has worked fine for almost a century.

  • by Dishevel ( 1105119 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @12:01PM (#41706823)

    I run the phone system for a taxi company.
    I need the ability to control the number that shows up on a caller ID system.
    I do not want 1 of 165 numbers I have showing up on a customers phone when a calltaker calls them back of the callout system tells them their cab is at the location.
    Our recognizable 800 is what I want to show up. So that people know who is calling. Not giving me control causes confusion of who is calling.
    Taking away the power of responsible businesses is not the way to fix a problem with fuckwads.

You know, Callahan's is a peaceable bar, but if you ask that dog what his favorite formatter is, and he says "roff! roff!", well, I'll just have to...