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Hate robocalls? FTC hopes these guys have an answer

Agency awards $50,000 in cash prizes as it turns to the private sector for help eradicating long-running annoyance of the technology era.

Crowd-Sourced Call Identification and Suppression submission Daniel Klein and Dean Jackson

If there's one Washington topic of conversation that's guaranteed to win plaudits from both sides of the partisan aisle, it's what to do about robocalls.

Despite rules banning most commercial robocalls, the Federal Trade Commission still receives tens of thousands of consumer complaints each month. Indeed on a Web page it operates, the FTC acknowledges that current laws have not stopped companies from "using autodialers that can send out thousands of phone calls every minute for an incredibly low cost."

So if Uncle Sam can't do it alone, the thinking is: turn to the private sector.

Earlier today, the FTC announced the winners of a competition in what it calls its "Robocall Challenge," splitting the $50,000 first-place price for overall solution to Serdar Danis and Aaron Foss. According to the agency, their proposals each deploy a captcha-style test to block illegal calls from getting through.

At the same time, organizations that employ 10 or more people were eligible for another, non-monetary award. For that, the judges selected Daniel Klein and Dean Jackson from Google for their proposed Crowd-Sourced Call Identification and Suppression system.

"The solutions that our winners came up with have the potential to turn the tide on illegal robocalls, and they show the wisdom of tapping into the genius and technical expertise of the public," Charles Harwood, who is acting director of the agency's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. "We're hoping these winning proposals find their way to the marketplace soon, and will provide relief to millions of American consumers harassed by these calls."