A Contest to Combat Robocalls

FAQs

FAQs will be updated periodically.

Eligibility

Who is eligible to enter the contest?

The contest is open to anyone who is: (1) physically present at DEF CON in Las Vegas from August 7-9, (2) 18 years old, (3) does not have a familial or financial relationship with any of the Judges, and (4) has not been convicted of a felony. There are other restrictions in the rules. To be eligible to win the Prize, contestants must also verify that they are a US citizen or permanent resident (in accordance with the America COMPETES Act). Please see the Official Rules for a complete list of eligibility requirements.

Can more than one person work on a submission?

Yes, teams are encouraged.

What are the requirements for team participation?

The same eligibility requirements that apply to individual contestants also apply to contestants who enter as part of a team. In order for the team to receive a prize, all team members will need to verify that they are US citizens or permanent residents. In addition, each team will need to appoint a representative who can act on behalf of the team.

How many contestants may participate in your Contest?

To ensure that the judges have sufficient time to review each submission, the number of participants is limited to: 

  • For phase 1 – the first 50 contestants who submit a registration form
  • For phase 2 – the first 25 contestants who submit a registration form
  • For phase 3 – the first 50 contestants who submit a registration form

How will you determine whether a team is within the first 50 or 25 contestants to register for a particular phase?

A team’s time of registration will be based on when the first team member submits a registration form, so long as the registration form also includes the team’s name and the names of its team members. However, if the first team member to submit a registration form initially registered as an individual but updated the registration form to enter the phase as part of the team, the team’s time of registration will be based on the time the first team member submitted that individual registration form.

Registration

How do I register for the contest?

Visit the FTC’s “Zapping Rachel” booth and fill out a registration form. Registration opens at 9 am PDT on August 7.

After you register, you will get a confirmation email and important information regarding the contests, including Twilio free credits for phases 1 and 2, and access to necessary data for phase 3.

After registering as an individual, can I change my mind and switch my registration to be part of a team? If I do, will I keep my original time of registration?

Contestants who initially register as individuals may enter their submission as part of a team if they (1) update their registration form to indicate that they are part of a team; and (2) their teammates complete and submit registration forms by the relevant submission deadlines. The team’s time of registration will be based on the time that the first team member submitted a registration form.

Entries

How do I submit an entry?

You must register at the “Zapping Rachel” booth at DEF CON 22 before finalizing your submission. Email your final submissions to RobocallContest@gmail.com.

Can I enter more than one submission?

Yes. There is no limit to how many times an eligible person or team may enter the contest. An individual may also participate on more than one team. However, if you submit two or more submissions that are identical or substantially similar, the FTC reserves the right to disqualify all the submissions or require you to choose one submission to enter into the competition.

How soon can contestants start working on their submissions?

For phases one and two, contestants are free to start working on their submissions at any time. However, they won't be given any credit on the Twilio platform until they register at the FTC's booth at DEF CON, beginning August 7, 2014.

For phase three, contestants won't be able to start their data analysis until we provide the data to registered contestants at DEF CON 22.

Are there limitations in the coding languages or platforms that I may use?

Yes, to ensure that the judges can test your submission, contestants may only use the following languages: C++, C, Java, PERL, Ruby, and Python. We encourage contestants to use open source systems and tools to ensure that judges will be able to test your submissions.

How can I provide the judges access to my honeypot, to the platform on which I build my submission, or to other tools or software needed to test my submission?

If you use Twilio, please add the judges as a “new user” — by sending an invitation to RobocallContest@gmail.com — and provide the judges with developer rights. Once the Contest is over, you may revoke the judges’ access to your platform. 

For other platforms, tools, or software, you may either:

  1. Create a new user account for the judges with access to your platform, tools, or software, and include instructions on how judges may access your tools, software, or platform in your submission email to RobocallContest@gmail.com
  2. Provide the user name and password for your tool, software, or platform to the judges before the submission deadline for the relevant phase
  3. Provide alternative arrangements in your submission email to RobocallContest@gmail.com

If the judges cannot test your submission, the FTC may contact you using the email provided at registration to obtain additional information. You must respond by the date and time specified in the FTC’s email. If you fail to respond by the deadline specified or the judges are ultimately unable to test your submission for any reason, you may not qualify to win a prize. 

Are you providing the contestants with any tools to use?

Yes, for phase 1, Twilio, Inc. will provide $30 of credit to contestants who choose to build their honeypots on the Twilio platform. And for phase 2, Twilio will also provide $15 of credit to contestants to test their methods of circumventing a honeypot or placing undetected calls to a honeypot.

What should contestants do if they run out of the credit you are providing on the Twilio platform?

An additional credit of $30 will be available upon request if contestants run out of the initial credit provided. To obtain the additional credit, please visit the FTC’s booth at DEF CON 22 between 9 am and 9 pm PDT, August 7-9 (and before the submission deadline for the phase in question). If contestants need more than the additional $30 credit, contestants must spend their own resources to complete their Submission. The additional $30 credit will be available for each Submission for phases 1 or 2.

Judging

How will you test the honeypots in phase 1?

We will forward calls from Nomorobo’s honeypot to each contestant’s honeypot and evaluate how it operates. Nomorobo owns the numbers in its honeypot, and it is unlikely that the calls Nomorobo receives are from consumers. In an abundance of caution, however, we will delete, where feasible, any voice recordings or transcriptions of voice recordings made during the testing process from contestants’ honeypots once the judging process is complete.

Will the judges know contestants’ identities during the judging process?

No, the FTC will anonymize contestants’ submissions by removing the originating email address before the judges view them. Section 4 of the Contest rules specifies that with the exception of the email address, no part of the submission may contain information revealing the contestant’s identity, such as a name, address, employment information, or other identifying details.

In addition, to prevent disclosing a contestant’s identity to the judges, contestants are encouraged to keep accounts, platforms, software, or other tools as anonymous as possible without violating the terms of service of any third party provider. For example, in using the Twilio platform, contestants can name their accounts without using identifying information. If contestants fail to anonymize their accounts, the FTC may take any necessary steps to do so, such as temporarily changing a Twilio account name. 

Prizes

How will you announce the winners?

We intend to announce the top scores at DEF CON 22’s ceremony on Sunday, August 10, at 3 pm PDT. The FTC will announce the winners sometime after DEF CON 22 is over to enable the FTC to verify that the top scorers met the eligibility requirements specified in the Official Rules.

If a team submission wins a prize, how will the prize money be split among the creators?

The winning team’s representative must allocate the prize among the team members as the representative deems appropriate. The representative may choose to receive the entire payment, or he may provide the FTC with information about prize allocation to facilitate the FTC’s issuance of payments to the other team members. 

The FTC issues payments through electronic funds transfers. All persons who receive payment are responsible for reporting and paying the applicable federal, state, and local taxes. In order for any contestant to receive payment from the FTC, the contestant will need to provide the FTC with his or her name, mailing address, Taxpayer Identification Number, and bank account information.

FTC Information

Who can I contact if I have questions about the contest?

Email RobocallContest@ftc.gov.

When will FTC staff be available to answer questions at DEF CON 22?

The FTC’s booth at DEF CON 22 will be staffed from 9 am to 9 pm PDT on August 7-9, and from 9 am to 1 pm PDT on August 10. You can also send us an email at RobocallContest@ftc.gov and we will respond as soon as possible.

Where is the FTC’s booth located at DEF CON 22?

Our booth will be located in the contest area, near the stage.

Why is the FTC hosting this contest?

“Zapping Rachel” is the next step in the FTC’s action plan to fight robocalls. With this contest, the FTC is hoping not only to advance the overall sophistication of robocall honeypots but also to attract new innovators to join the battle. Please review the contest details and consider joining us at DEF CON!

Where can I find more information about illegal robocalls?

The vast majority of phone calls that deliver a prerecorded sales message are illegal. But advances in technology have made it cheap and easy to “spam” people with harassing robocalls. The FTC is doing everything in its power to address the problem.

For more information, check out materials from the FTC Robocall Summit. You may be interested in the slide presentations and video from the event, especially the panel on “The Law” at the end of the morning session.

You also can review the FTC's guide to complying with the Telemarketing Sales Rule and the FCC's guide to unwanted telephone marketing calls.