Kill a robot, win a bounty

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Fancy yourself as a backroom Bladerunner? The FTC is offering a $50,000 reward for anyone that can come up with a way of killing off the robocalls that can make life so annoying.

As part of its campaign against these illegal, pre-recorded sales calls, it's launching a contest on Challenge.gov, an online challenge platform administered by the US General Services Administration.

The FTC's been doing its best to come up with a solution itself - but, despite this, hasn't been able to put a stop to the thousands of autodial calls put through every minute. 'Rachel From Cardholder Services' is still a familiar caller to millions of people.

"The FTC is attacking illegal robocalls 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," says David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

"We think this will be an effective approach in the case of robocalls because the winner of our challenge will become a national hero."

To help people come up with a solution, the will provide participants with data on de-identified consumer complaints about robocalls made between June 2008 and September 2012.  

Solvers will hen receive periodic updates with contemporary data through December 31, 2012. The data will include date of call; approximate time of call; reported caller name; the first seven digits of the reported caller phone number and the consumer area code.

The competition runs until January 17 next year. Entries will be scored on the basis of how well the solution actually works, how easy it is to use and how effectively it can be rolled out. Only teams of fewer than ten people are eligible for the bounty; larger groups will get an achievement award instead.