By: Jeffrey Lapin
On October 18, 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it will be launching a challenge, the FTC Robocall Challenge, with a $50,000 cash prize for the best technical solution. The Challenge is free and open to the public. The FTC is offering the Challenge as part of its ongoing campaign to stop illegal, prerecorded telemarketing calls.
WHAT IS AN ILLEGAL ROBOCALL
A robocall is a telephone call made by an automated dialing system (autodialer) that delivers a pre-recorded message. Commercial robocalls are telephone calls that deliver a recorded sales message. Often, these calls are annoying, unsolicited and frequently deceptive.
Robocalls are primarily governed by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). The TCPA, among other things, prohibits robocalls to cellular telephones and residential telephone lines; and created the “Do Not Call Registry,” which permits consumers to register their personal telephone numbers to stop most telemarketing calls. The FTC’s TSR and its amendments: prohibit most telemarketing sales calls that deliver a prerecorded message; requires all robocalls, at the beginning of the call, to provide an easy opt-out mechanism.
There are exceptions under both the TCPA and TSR for certain types of robocalls, including: “informational” calls; surveys; political calls; if the consumer has an “established business relationship” with the caller; if the consumer has given “prior express consent” to receiving robocalls; “emergency” calls; and most calls made by tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, banks, telephone carriers, healthcare providers and most charitable organizations.
CURRENT SOLUTIONS TO THE ROBOCALL PROBLEM
The FTC, along with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), have filed many enforcement actions against telemarketers, debt collectors and other entities illegally using robocalls. These enforcement actions often include fines and injunctions. In addition, the TCPA permits consumers to sue telemarkerters for violations. Under the TCPA, a violator can be required to pay up to $1,500.00 per violation to a consumer.
The FTC is also working on multiple initiatives to combat the problem of illegal robocalls, including: continuing aggressive law enforcement; gathering evidence strategically; and pursuing technological solutions.
WHY A PUBLIC CHALLENGE?
The FTC’s Robocalls Microsite states:
Consumers are getting more robocalls than ever. Technology is the reason: Companies are using autodialers that can send out thousands of phone calls every minute for an incredibly low cost.
Using its enforcement authority, the FTC has stopped companies responsible for billions of illegal robocalls that have offered fraudulent credit card services, so-called auto warranty protection plans, medical discount cards, and grant procurement programs.
We’re continuing aggressive law enforcement efforts, pursuing innovative strategies to gather evidence against robocall kingpins, producing consumer education, working with industry and other experts, and offering a prize to innovators that can create a technical solution.
The FTC Robocall Challenge was announced at its Robocalls: All the Rage Summit, which was a public, one-day event held to discuss solutions to the robocall problem. David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in discussing the Challenge, stated:
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. We think this will be an effective approach in the case of robocalls because the winner of our challenge will become a national hero.
THE FTC ROBOCALL CHALLENGE
The FTC Robocall Challenge is the FTC’s first contest hosted on Challenge.gov, an online challenge platform administered by the U.S. General Services Administration, in partnership with ChallengePost. A website, FTC Robocall Challenge, http://robocall.challenge.gov/, has been setup. The Challenge is free and open to the public. It runs from October 25, 2012, until January 17, 2013. The winning solutions will be announced in early April 2013. There are actually two awards that will be given: Best Overall Solution and the Federal Trade Commission Technology Achievement Award. The winner of the Best Overall Solution receives $50,000 and a trip, for up to two people, to Washington D.C. to present the winning solution. The winner of the Achievement Award receives “recognition” only.
Additional details about the Challenge include:
- The Judges are: Steve Bellovin, FTC Chief Technologist; Henning Schulzrinne, Federal Communications Commission Chief Technologist; and Kara Swisher of All Things D.
- Only individuals, teams or small corporations (organizations that employ fewer than 10 people) are eligible for the $50,000 prize.
- Entries will be judged using three criteria: Does it work? (50% of total score); Is it easy to use? (25%); and Can it be rolled out? (25% percent)
For additional information, including Official Rules, Discussions, Criteria Details, Resources and FAQ go to the Challenge site. In addition, on October 25, 2012, the FTC will host two live social media chats answer questions about the Challenge. Chat participants can follow the @FTC Twitter handle and are encouraged to ask questions beginning at 12:00 pm CST on Twitter using the hashtag #FTCrobo. Immediately after the chat, at 2:00pm CST, FTC staff will answer questions on the FTC’s Facebook page.
Source material for this post comes from the following:
- FTC Challenges Innovators to Do Battle with Robocallers
- FTC Robocalls Microsite
- FTC Robocall Challenge
- Telephone Consumer Protection Act
- FTC’s New Rule Prohibiting Unwanted “Robocalls” to Take Effect on September 1
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT ROBOCALLS
- 2011 Consumer Complaint Survey Report Released
- Proposed FDCPA Amendment Would Allow Messages By Collectors
- FCC Issues New Rules For Telemarketing Robocalls
- A Victory for Consumers: H.R. 3035 (The Mobile Informational Caller Act of 2011) Killed By Co-Sponsors
ABOUT LAPIN LAW OFFICES
Lapin Law Offices represents clients harassed by telemarketers through Nebraska. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) allows consumers to sue telemarketers for illegal calls, including robocalls. To find out if you have a call contact us anytime (24/7) at 402-421-8033 (Lincoln), 888-525-8819 (Toll Free) or submit your case online, Contact Us. We offer a free initial consultation and do not collect a fee unless we get money for you.