Kill robocalls, get paid

If you hate robocalls and love money, the FTC wants to hear from you. They're offering a $50K bounty for practical robocall-killing technology. Details at


  1. If ever there was a time to use that technology that they have to monitor all phone calls all the time that I don’t think ANYBODY would object to… This would be it.

  2. I was going to suggest strangling the bastard owners of the robocall companies with my bare hands. 

    And I’ll do it FOR FREE!

  3. I actually have a system which works very well for my own use. But publishing it would probably negate its usefulness, and $50,000 wouldn’t quite pay for my effort in developing an automated version.

    1. “The winning solution will win $50,000 in cash, as well as opportunities for promotion, exposure, and recognition by the FTC. Solvers will retain ownership of their solutions.” 

      So, if you’re not just making stuff up, you’d be able to license the tech on top of receiving the prize.

  4. Just make some “honeypots”.  Being the government, they could make some fake people in various demographics.  Put the phone numbers on the internet and wait for the calls to come in.

    Then once you have recordings of incoming calls, cross reference them for matches with technology similar to YouTubes content id system.

  5. I’ve often thought it would be pretty trivial to make a “Captcha” type solution, at least to work as an app for mobile phones.  When there’s an incoming call, instead of ringing it goes first to some kind of quick call-and-response exchange between the caller and the app before the incoming call is passed as a ring to the cell phone.

    Of course you’d run the risk of annoying your actual human callers.

    Now that I think about it, any corporation that makes you navigate an annoying robot menu before connecting you to a human already does this.

  6. My answering machine says, “The number you have reached, [nnn-nnn-nnnn], has been disconnected.” Sometimes I change it to, “You have reached a non-working number at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” Either that or just a minute of heavy breathing.

  7. “Judging criteria: (1) Does it work? (50%); (2) Is it easy to use? (25%); (3) Can it be rolled out? (25%).”

    Sadly only USAians can enter, or I’d be in with my guaranteed at least 50% score solution: “do nothing”. Full marks on ease of use & roll-out-ability, for sure!

  8. This sounds like a job for Anonymous. If there was any entity with the chutzpa and ability to seek-and-destroy “Rachel from cardmember services” or “Windows computer support” it’s that gang of fun-loving anarchists.

  9. I don’t know if it’s localized, but from talking to my friends and my own experience, both robocalls and irritating calls in general have really spiked up lately.  Only a month or two ago we only got one or two “Credit Card Services” scam calls a month.  We got 6 in the last week. I also got a “Microsoft tech support/eventvwr” live scam call. Add to that all the damned political campaigns and pollsters and I don’t even want to answer the phone anymore.  It’s really bad at our house since we get maybe 3 or 4 legit calls a week, so it’s getting to the point where about 75% of the time when we pick up the phone, it’s spam/scam.

    If there was a politician who really would make political parties and pollsters adhere to the same DNC registry that companies did, that would weigh in heavily to swinging my vote. As it is, in the absence of other factors, I tend to vote away from the person who’s irritated me the most on the phone during the campaign.

  10. How about a three- (or six-) strike system, like Big Media gets to force down the throats of Internetters?  Provide a special number which, when called, automatically logs the number of the last inbound call a spammer.

    Strike out, and the number is deactivated for a period of time.  Limited appeals and no refunds. If you stop paying for the locked phone number, you lose it. If anyone stikes out enough times, prosecutors go after them.  Politicians and telcos would not be immune, either.

  11. Is it easier just to go after the source of funding?  The nice thing about robocalls is that they tell you who paid for the call.  Why can’t we just forward the call to a gov’t agency and let them financially penalize the advertiser.

  12. Have every call cost $1 a minute that goes to do callee, unless the callee presses some key or code, and then the call costs the normal amount.

    Unsolicited calls are immediately incredibly expensive, but you can still call your friends.

    1. Wrong numbers, accidental hangups, and other totally innocuous situations would also be incredibly expensive.  See Cory’s spam solution checklist for details.

      1.  It also depends on the callee being a trusted actor. And not drunk, half-asleep, your slightly confused grandmother, or a soul-blasted unmotivated wage-slave.

        I hate phones and don’t call anyone, so this system works for me, but it won’t work. Any system that depends on someone doing something correctly EVERY time on EVERY “legit” phonecall won’t work.

    1. Plenty of effective laws. But, you have to catch them first.

      From what I understand, this new generation of robo-calls (card member services, windows support, etc.) are frustratingly difficult, if not nigh-on impossible, to track-down. The FCC is very aware of these calls and is actively trying to hunt the them down, but it’s been dead-ends within dead-ends.

  13. How about starting with the Political Campaign calls, “Hello this Rep. Bleh”, no its not! Its a robo-call!

  14. This is actually an interesting challenge, maybe an impossible one.  We are challenged to stop ILLEGAL robo-calls but to let the LEGAL robo-calls through.  This means it’s not good enough to put the caller through a Turing test like “If you are a person, press 2, otherwise the phone will not ring.”  (I actually had an off-the-shelf device some years ago that could be configured to do just that.  Drove legitimate callers crazy.)

    So that means we not only have to detect a non-human caller, we have to detect something that distinguishes an illegal caller from a legal one.  And we can’t do something simple like give out a device to the legal robo-callers that signals “This is a legal robo-call,” because the first thing the scammers will do is buy or steal one of those devices.  I can’t create some secret password to my phone and give it out only to legal robo-callers, because the same thing will happen.  There’s nothing that legal robo-callers could possibly possess that I would trust them to keep out of the hands of scammers.

    But wait, I hear you saying, what if the thing the legal robo-caller possesses is identification, like a car license plate?  I have no motive to let my license plates fall into the hands of a criminal, because I can’t drive without plates, and because I don’t want to answer for whatever hijinks someone would get up to while my plates are on his car.  So we issue a different, crytographically secure credential to each legal robo-caller.  Then all I need is a device for my phone that looks up the robo-caller’s “plate number” and blocks the call if that fails.  As a side effect I get caller ID for robo-calls.  This is closer to a solution, at least.  The weak link is the people giving out the credentials, who can be scammed into giving out a good credential to a bad actor, in much the same way Certificate Authorities have been scammed (e.g. DigiNotar, Comodo).  But once discovered, the stolen credential could be revoked instantly.

    I don’t see myself spending money on this technology once it’s available, and I don’t kid myself that the phone company will provide it free of charge.  If I’m going to spend some money and some time, I’d rather end up with a technology that gives me control over who calls and who doesn’t.  Then I’ll never again have to hear the perfectly legal words, “Hello, this is Congressman Steve King….”

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