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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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  • Solution (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:04AM (#41703707)

    Large fines to the telephone company that passed on the robocall. That will be more than enough incentive for them to figure a solution that avoids the fines by stopping the robocalls.

  • by captainpanic ( 1173915 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:09AM (#41703765)

    What is a robocall? We just don't have them where I live (Western Europe).
    Also, since we don't have robocalls, and have never had them, how difficult can it be?

  • by The1stImmortal ( 1990110 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:14AM (#41703805)
    Just run the phone number equivalent of a blacklist directory. Exempt such directories from any legal liability, and just make it compulsory for telcos to provide (as an opt-in service) call filtering based on the blacklisting.

    The carriers always know the calling number even if the caller id is blocked, so it should work if done at the exchange.

    Alternatively, someone could throw together a little telephony device (or app in the case of smartphones) that sits in between the phone and the wall socket and queries public blacklists based on caller ID, and screens out anonymous calls.

    Not that hard surely?
  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:16AM (#41703831) Homepage

    It's an automatically dialed call that plays a recorded message. Common sources include:
    - Scam artists. A classic one is claiming to be from "cardholder services []", and if the victim calls back will attempt to get the victim to divulge personal and banking information. These are illegal, but it's hard to find out who's dialing.

    - Political campaigns. These are very very common in early November in places that can determine major elections. The idea is to use robocalls from a nominally independent group to put out a message that you want voters to hear but not to have your candidate say on TV. There's now also a serious risk of these backfiring, so there have also been instances of campaigns pretending to robocall as the other campaign.

  • by WaywardGeek ( 1480513 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:17AM (#41703837) Journal

    The existing phone system is a dinosaur. We should switch to a modern digital P2P system where everyone has an online identity. The first time someone wants you to receive and e-mail from them, charge them $0.01. The first time they want you to answer their call, charge them $0.05. We need an electronic currency that enables fast micro-transactions, and we need to stop acting like the world is still plastered with individual analog phone lines rather than being all digital. Simply put, we need to take advantage of he capabilities of the hardware we already built.

  • by Xest ( 935314 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:17AM (#41703851)

    This is the often cited excuse for not dealing with it in the UK that BT uses.

    So in my mind the best solution is to penalise BT financially for each call someone registers as being an illegal automated call. BT can then pass the cost on to whoever routed the call to them such that effectively as the cost gets passed back down the chain the cost of illegal calls eventually gets passed on to the source making it not cost effective.

  • *FO (Score:5, Interesting)

    by anyaristow ( 1448609 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:28AM (#41703987)

    *FO to report a call as abusive or illegal. Too high a percentage of *FO responses gets your service terminated.

  • Re:Money. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:38AM (#41704075) Homepage
    Speaking of spamming, why not just build something into the phone system for users to flag phone calls as robocalls. Whenever you get one, hang up, and dial *54 or some other code. That sends a message to the phone company that whoever called is a robocaller. After enough negative feedback against a particular source, that source is blocked. Sure systems can route their calls through other sources to make it look like they are coming from somewhere else, but that just puts some onus on whoever is providing these services to block robocalls on their own end. Provide them with the time and location of the call, and they should be able to track where it came from. Most robocalls probably come directly from the entity making the calls, or a contracted out to some other company who does the robocalls for them. Start blocking the calls, and they will stop doing it.
  • by causality ( 777677 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:40AM (#41704093)

    Effective deterrent? That'll be why there are no more murders in US states with death penalty then. Wake up, deterrents don't work, people don't believe they will be caught.

    Someone who would murder another human being (not talking about legitimate self-defense here) is either a cold-blooded killer or psychotic. There is something wrong with them that prevents them from considering things like the probability of getting caught, how wrong such an act would be, or that with modern forensics most murderers do in fact get caught. These are not people who think rationally and perform risk assessments prior to acting.

    Compare to the sociopaths who tend to run corporations. They are all about their own self-interests. They do consider risk, in fact it's about the only thing that can alter their decision-making. A real law with teeth that poses a real threat to their income actually would make them think twice. Combine that with how unlikely it is that they would make a perfectly untracable phone call, plus the even lower likelihood of making a perfectly untracable financial transaction for whatever business they are doing, plus the number of complaints that would result from an automated system making tons of calls, and the likelihood of getting caught is very high.

    Back on topic, I find not answering the phone works personally...

    It's the same problem you find with spam. You and I may not talk to them and buy from them, but some moron out there will. Their costs are so low that they only need a very small rate of response to make money. Passing a law with teeth that targets a few centralized assholes is much easier than convincing every moron to put a little thought into how their actions affect others.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @08:53AM (#41704251) Homepage

    My favorite is a telemarketer tormenter on Asterisk.... []

    I based it off of their ideas... I transfer the call to an extension that is nothing but random clips of someone agreeing, saying "yeah", etc... but waits for a pause in audio to trigger the next random clip. Some telemarketers wasted an HOUR talking to my torture device.

    I just wish I could do this with my cellphone.

  • by Zocalo ( 252965 ) on Friday October 19, 2012 @09:10AM (#41704449) Homepage
    No, you'd pay your sleezy robocaller to genuinely try and sell your competitor's products. Sales would be met either from stock specifically acquired in bulk for the purpose (and probably netting a small profit into the bargin), or by putting the order through to the competitor directly, like by entering the callee's details into the competitor's website as they are being taken. The latter would be even better, since it would be even harder to claim innocence when the cops can go rooting through the competitor's sales system and find the order, invoice and despatch note in there.
  • Re:Solution (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tqk ( 413719 ) <> on Friday October 19, 2012 @09:18AM (#41704555)

    Large fines to the telephone company that passed on the robocall.

    What is this, the 1940s? The robots don't call up the girls at the exchange and [ask] to be put through.

    No, because it's all automated. Machines do it all. Machines that log their actions in order to bill customers. Since it's all logged for billing purposes, it should be simple to backtrack to the initiator. If it's not possible, they then know what to fix to make that possible.

    I'd be happy to forgo the hefty fines as long as they could show they're gaining on the problem, the bad guys are losing, and I'm not being billed for and losing minutes to them.

    Europeans aren't billed for incoming calls or messages. The initiator is billed instead. How the hell did we end up this boneheaded system instead?

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson