FTC rolls out two new robocall challenges

The Federal Trade Comission wants the public to come up with a way to trap robocallers before they ever get to your phone. Twenty-five thousand dollars will be award to the winner in August.

When the Federal Trade Commission heads to Las Vegas in August for DEF CON, it’s looking to double down on robocalls.

The FTC announced Wednesday it will hold two challenges over the next few months dedicated to ending robocalls — those annoying auto-dialed calls that often advertise free vacations, credit card deals or money.

The first contest, called DetectaRobo, aims to stop robocalls before they begin. Contestants will be given data collected from a previous robocall honeypot — a trap that directs calls away from consumers and into a database where people can study them — to create an algorithm that will predict and block robocalls from a second set of data.

The second challenge, Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back, is broken up into two parts: The first phase calls for people to create a crowdsourced tool that will allow landline and mobile phone users to forward robocalls to a honeypot. The top five teams from the first phase will then attempt to forward as many robocalls to their honeypot as possible, with the winner awarded $25,000 at DEF CON 23.


The FTC has run numerous robocall challenges over the past few years. In 2013, it awarded $25,000 to Aaron Foss, who turned his Nomorobo service into a free Voice over Internet Protocol service for consumers. Last year, it awarded prizes to three teams in its Zapping Rachel contest, which created honeypots that allowed government agencies and law enforcement to gather and study robocall data.

Despite the efforts, robocalls are still a big problem. According to Federal Communications Commission data, nearly 6,000 robocall complaints were logged between the end of 2014 and Feb. 23. Prior to announcing the challenges, the FTC announced Wednesday that it forced a Florida-based cruise line to pay more than $500,000 in fines for making billions of robocalls in 2011 and 2012.

To enter the FTC’s challenges, visit the agency’s website.

Greg Otto

Written by Greg Otto

Greg Otto is Editor-in-Chief of CyberScoop, overseeing all editorial content for the website. Greg has led cybersecurity coverage that has won various awards, including accolades from the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. Prior to joining Scoop News Group, Greg worked for the Washington Business Journal, U.S. News & World Report and WTOP Radio. He has a degree in broadcast journalism from Temple University.

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