FTC Announces New Robocall Contests to Combat Illegal Automated Calls

Agency Offers Up to $50,000 in Prizes for New Consumer Solution to Reduce Calls to Landline, Mobile Phones

For Release

The Federal Trade Commission announced today that it is launching two new robocall contests challenging the public to develop a crowd-source honeypot and better analyze data from an existing honeypot. A honeypot is an information system that may be used by government, private and academic partners to lure and analyze robocalls. The challenges are part of the FTC’s long-term multi-pronged effort to combat illegal robocallers and contestants of one of the challenges will compete for $25,000 in a top prize.

As part of Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back, the FTC is asking contestants to create a technical solution for consumers that will identify unwanted robocalls received on landlines or mobile phones, and block and forward those calls to a honeypot. A qualifying phase launches today and runs through June 15, 2015 at 10:00 p.m. ET; and a second and final phase concludes at DEF CON 23 on Aug. 9, 2015.

The Commission will also host a new data analytic contest, DetectaRobo, during the National Day of Civic Hacking (National Day) on June 6, 2015. This is the first time the FTC is launching a contest during National Day, which is an annual global effort to unite citizens who are interested in collaborating with government to solve a variety of technical challenges.

In 2012, the FTC launched its first market-stimulation contest, the Robocall Challenge, which garnered more than 800 submissions and resulted in at least two solutions available in the market today. Last year, the FTC hosted a three-phase honeypot contest at DEF CON 22, and forged new partnerships with information security researchers as part of the agency’s outreach. 

“We’re using many strategies to fight robocalls, including law enforcement, education, and crowd-sourced innovation,” said Jessica Rich, Director, FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Following the success of our previous robocall challenges, we’re once again seeking expertise from the public to put a new tool in consumers’ hands, and to develop technology to help law enforcement and other partners investigate these calls.” 

Up to five contestants from Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back will be selected from the qualifying phase and move on in the competition to a final round, competing for a top prize of $25,000 at DEF CON in Las Vegas. Up to two honorable mentions may be awarded $10,500 and each remaining finalist may also be eligible for $2,000 for a total of $50,000 in cash prizes.

Contestants who are interested in participating in DetectaRobo are encouraged to join a hackathon near them on June 6 or participate in the FTC’s contest virtually. Each contestant will be given data from an existing honeypot and must develop an algorithm that identifies which calls in the data are likely robocalls. The FTC will kick off registration for DetectaRobo on National Day, and will conclude the contest on June 7, 2015. Registration will be limited to the first 50 contestants.

An expert panel of four judges will judge both contests.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, a long-standing international partner in the ongoing battle against robocalls, is collaborating with the FTC for the contests, and is providing one of the judges. The FTC is also partnering with Pindrop Security to provide data and other analytics for the contests.

Complete rules for both contests are published in the Federal Register and available on the FTC’s website. Contest information will also be available on Challenge.gov.

Anyone interested in following contest updates including registration deadlines and a list of the winning entries can subscribe to email updates for Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back and DetectaRobo.

Robocalls are prerecorded messages that generally seek to promote the purchase of goods or services to a consumer, and are regulated by the FTC under the Telemarketing Sales Rule. If a consumer receives a robocall, they can report it to the FTC’s Do Not Call Complaint Assistant.

For tips and more information about the FTC’s enforcement and education on telemarketing scams, see www.ftc.gov/robocalls.

Contact Information

Media Contact:
Cheryl Warner
Office of Public Affairs

Staff Contact:
Patty Hsue
Bureau of Consumer Protection