•   about 5 years ago

What's so hard about this challenge?

Performing such a telemarketing lockout would be child's play. All that is required to add a 4 digit pin number to a phone number that would be given out only to those people one wishes to contact them.

Simple usage:

1: Dial a number
2: Phone answers with no message given
3: Caller enters pin number
3: If wrong pin, no phone ring, phone hangs up
If correct, phone rings, owner answers

Can be instituted nearly instantly by all cellphone manufacturers by simply upgrading a cellphone's flash rom OS, and new land line phones can be manufactured using this feature, with older phones using a simple add on device that intercepts the ring signal of standard phone lines and inhibits it unless it detects the correct DTMF pin number. Otherwise, hangs up.

Best yet, a pin can be changed by the phone owner anytime he chooses to rid themselves of not only telemarketers, but any other annoying caller, giving the new pin only to those the owner wishes to remain in contact with, or he can choose to cancel out the option to receive all calls.

Needs no changes to phone switching networks, can be implemented nearly overnight, and is simple enough to anybody for to use, including the handicapped.

$50,000 for this? It will be easy money for somebody, I think!

  • 30 comments

  •   •   about 5 years ago

    cheap? Now every store I shop at (e.g. best buy) needs my phone number *and* my pin? So they can call me when my new plasma screen is ready for pickup/delivery whatever? That's a lot of changes to a lot of databases and websites - now I have to enter my phone number and my pin. And of course the robocallers will buy that info so this helps nothing.

  •   •   about 5 years ago

    Any solution involving changing how people normally use their phone will definitely not work. You are asking all telephone users to change the way they receive calls, or make calls, it won't meet the third criteria "easy to roll out". Plus you'll never know somebody needs to call you for emergency, for example a hospital calling you about a loved one in the hospital, are you going to give out your pin number to all hospitals around you and keep them updated of all new pins, and are you expecting they'll work with you and keep updating your new pin codes?

  •   •   about 5 years ago

    Just like phone numbers...once the "pin" is given out to say Best Buy....how long do you think they would sell it like they sold your phone number? And when you have a falling out with your friend or girlfriend....how long would that "pin" be safe? I believe people would be changing pins like they change underwear...not all, but some.

    It's not an "easy" solution...if it were, don't you think their engineers would have come up with the solution and why would they be having this contest? And they don't want just a suggestion...they want proof this proposal will work....proposals that can be up to 15 pages in length. I suggest you actually read the rules fully and completely Thomas...just sayin'.

    I have an idea...but I will be damned I am going to post it on here!! I want to do some research first.

  •   •   about 5 years ago

    Agreed with Joan and the other posters above. People will forget the PIN, and in emergency situations, forgetting a PIN could be the difference between allowing that emergency call to go through or allowing something terrible to happen.

  •   •   about 5 years ago

    We have the tech to monitor all this stuff!!!!!!!

  •   •   about 5 years ago

    Sorry to say, but that's not really a solution. Most people (myself included) don't want to have to individually add trusted callers to a whitelist. Besides that, it doesn't fulfill the requirements of the competition. The competition requires that legal robocalls can still get through, while illegal robocalls are blocked. The magic is in your sorting algorithm, and going this route means you don't really have one.

  •   •   about 5 years ago

    So, your plan is to expect every government agency, each of which with many, many numbers, to remember the PIN for potentially millions of users? Really? What if the users want to change their PIN? What if illegal robocallers start catching on, and start datamining PINs? Your system is extremely lacking in scalability.

    Not everyone who remains skeptical of your system is a telemarketer. Your post smacks of paranoia.

  •   •   about 5 years ago

    Cognitive dissonance: "As far as datamining PIN's, give me a break! It would be cheaper just to send junk mail then go through that nonsense.", "Besides, they use a PIN already in many, many instances. It's called an 'extension' number"

    Where do you think telemarketers get their lists from? It's not magic. They datamine constantly.

    To argue with a man who has renounced his reason is like giving medicine to the dead. -- Thomas Paine

    Therefore, this will be my last post.

  •   •   about 5 years ago

    Hopefully this is counted as a reasonable post.

    I look at this from the other side: how easy would it be to defeat the PIN system you describe. We're talking after all about robocallers, automated systems that tirelessly dial thousands of numbers to voice a prerecorded message as soon as it is picked up.

    And your system pits them against another automated system as well, meaning a tireless calling battle that can go on without you even knowing (since ideally this would prevent you from even hearing it ring in the first place unless it's a legitimate call).

    Scenario from the PIN-defeat robocaller side:
    1. Dial a number from the list. Enter a PIN from 0000-9999 in a systematic way (speeding it up by trying the most common PINs first, 0000, 1111, 1234, mmdd for known day of birth, etc).
    2. If no voice response was noted and call was interrupted, redial with next PIN on the list. Cycle until PIN is found (ie. a voice answers).

    A 4 digit PIN means to dial through to one number you have to retry at the very worst 10000 times, but most likely much less. At a 10-15 seconds cycle time, they'll have found your PIN in under two days even in the worst case.

    Remember that the way you propose, this goes on beyond your knowledge, since you're not hearing your phone ring. Additionally, since they can spoof caller IDs, your system cannot keep track of such a PIN-defeat attach and block after a number of failed tries, since your system has no way to deduce if they are the same caller or not.

    This can -and will- go on day and night, machine against machine. They don't even need to call your number 10000 times in a row: they could randomize which number to call next from their lists, spread it out over a week, as long as their system keeps track where they were in their PIN-defeat attempt of each number on their list.

    There is a reason why bank cards and cell phones block after 3-5 failed 4-digit PIN attempts. But in this case, with random spoofed caller ID, if you still want to block after so many tries you basically create your own denial of service and no one can call you anymore. What do they care, after all they obviously don't care about using a generally hated process or even illegal means like spoofing.

    PIN does not sound like the way to go.

  •   •   about 5 years ago

    @Thomas. I'm not talking about calling out, I'm talking about calling in. When your significant other is laying unconscious by the side of the road after an accident and a helpful passerby grabs his/her cell phone and tries to call you by selecting 'home', or the ambulance personnel try to reach you to ask if he/she is allergic to medication....guess what, your ingenious PIN system just killed him/her. You are throwing the baby out with the bath water. The idea is great on paper, but like other posters point out, it just isn't practical in real life situations.

  •   •   about 5 years ago

    Adding a PIN or modifying any existing hardware would be too expensive for the user and any Telecom agency to implement.

    Sometimes, the solution is so simple, it is overlooked. This problem has had the "magic pill" for years. I've used it myself and the calls have stopped.

    The tri-tone that is generated by the phone company when calling a number that is disconnected will actually tell any "robo-dialer" it has reached an invalid number and it will purge that number from its call list. Sometimes it may take one or two tries, but it does work.

    One way I used this is dial an invalid number on my cell phone and record the tone, then play it back on my home phone when I see a potential unwanted call come in.

    There are so many ways to use this. There are smartphone apps, plugin devices for landlines that play tone when a phone is answered, etc.......

    It's easy........... and it works! No expensive mods need to be implemented.

  •   •   about 5 years ago

    I like what Thomas J had to say, but who's to say this will work. I mean a company could just sale your 4 digit code to telemarketers. I say we show telemarketers whose really in charge a place severe consequences to those who commit the crime. Of cource I mean humane punishment. It wouldn't be a hassle and doesn't take to much time.

  •   •   about 5 years ago

    What about voice recognition software to detect synthetic or synthesized voice? Or is this something more complexed?

  •   •   about 5 years ago

    easy money :) where do I submit my solution?

  •   •   about 5 years ago

    isn't a head water type solution much easier I.E. fcc requires a percentage of numbers from a given area code (percentage determined by region population). A computer monitors in coming calls to those numbers with software that determines if its a real caller or a bot. You use a rotating list of numbers changing numbers every couple of months so the callers don't just avoid those numbers and then pursue the violators utilizing fines which are then used to fund the program. seams easy-peazy and in the long term it would no longer be profitable to make robo calls done deal dude (or dudett) so no complicated switch changes or another box connected to our phones mabey over it's simple eggheads wont understand it LOL

  •   •   about 5 years ago

    Here's the issue with a solution like what John L is proposing:

    Yes, a 4-digit pin is great. But having to give out that pin to EVERYONE that wants to call you? AND having to remember everyone else's pin in order to call them? It's impractical and very difficult to use on the consumer end of things, and like others have said, it's very, very easy to sell 4-digit pins.

    This problem has a lot more technical challenges than many here give it credit for:

    1) You need to be able to screen ONLY robocalls out of the mix
    2) You need to be able to detect who are the frequent offenders and block only them
    3) you need to have a way for people that are erroneously locked out to authenticate themselves back into the phone system
    4) you have to leave some tolerances for things like reverse 911 lookups, etc.
    5) You need to have a totally scalable, easy to implement solution
    6) You have to find a way to identify offenders so that switching numbers will not give them more than a minor (in my opinion, 3 or 4 call) advantage
    7) You have to protect users' privacy.

    There is no simple solution to this problem, and I'm a bit annoyed that people are proposing such simplistic, even childish, solutions.

  • Moderator   •   about 5 years ago

    Hi Keren,

    The challenge opens on Oct. 25 at 5 pm EDT. Once the submission period starts you will be able to fill out an online submission form here with your solution: http://robocall.challenge.gov/

    Best,
    Marny

  •   •   about 5 years ago

    I'm not necessarily criticizing your solution specifically, Thomas, I just wanted to make it clear that this wasn't a linear, one-sided problem. For example, the solution I'm starting to draft up (which, without giving away too much, involves taking recorded samples of conversations) must prize privacy as one of its main goals because of the potentially sensitive nature of the solution, hence point #7 in my original post. Those are general, systemic challenges that are going to be important for any solution to consider, not just yours.

    I wasn't specifically criticizing your solution, I just wanted to point out that it's not as simple as a PIN code for everyone and that's it. And, as to specific criticisms of your current idea:

    While I agree that your system could work really well on an individual scale, it doesn't solve the systemic problem. It leaves far too much up to each individual user, and let's face it: most users are not competent (or even patient) enough to learn to use their phone differently. People hate change, which is why I think a client-side solution (like the one you're proposing) has serious and systemic flaws associated with it. It's like a vaccine: if everyone is issued the right vaccine at the right time, and everyone makes sure to follow good hygiene practices, no one will get the flu. But if even a few people start falling through the cracks, the problem will grow exponentially.

    While your solution could be great for a tech-savvy or patient user here or there, I don't think that a lot of people are going to want to re-learn a system they truthfully already only barely understand.

  •   •   about 5 years ago

    @Thomas J: I think you are missing something in the details. The tone can be setup on an answering machine, voicemail box, etc.. to play the minute the call is answered. This will trick any robo-dialer to think that your phone number that it dialed is disconnected. End result, it will remove the number from its call database.

    Here's a link to the tone for anyone to use........
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qclvGBavL1E

  •   •   about 5 years ago

    I like Thomas J's idea. I think that from a technical standpoint, this could be handled entirely by the digital switching system
    and an addition of a customer feature. Patterns of robo-calling stick out like a sore thumb in traffic statistics.
    A place like AAA will get heavy incoming traffic, but few businesses pump that many outbound calls other than
    telemarketers or political callers. Once our entire phone network (land line has to catch up) is VOIP
    tracking this will be quite simple. They will be easy to spot and if they are not registered as a such a "high outgoing traffic business" (For which they should pay higher fees due to their load on the network) fine them out of existence.

    But I feel we do not need to spend a fortune on a technical solutions when another will work just as well.
    What we need is a broader and more stringent enforcement of the Do-Not-Call list.

    I had to laugh when I read that one of qualifications for this challenge was to allow "legal" robo-calls to get through.
    Now THERE is the real problem. With the exception of reverse 911 WHY are ANY robo-calls legal at all?
    I feel they should be forced to follow the Do-Not-Call guidelines like everyone else.

    The argument to allow this is more often than not, one of free speech. Well I say that this argument does not hold water.
    Take another form of exercising free speech --- walking a picket line. Regardless of the reason, whether its
    a labor dispute or a dissatisfied customer of a car dealership, people have a right to pick with one very
    important limit. They must do it on PUBLIC PROPERTY as using someone else's property to exercise your
    right to free speech is not justified. So I make this claim. Yes the telephone network is a public
    asset (to some degree) however the actual phone and inside wiring to my home is NOT!!!

    Therefore I contend that ALL commerical calls other than reverse 911 and those with whom you have a previous business relationship with, abide by the Do-Not-Call rules. What part of Do not call do they not understand. Put an end to Digital Trespass.

  •   •   almost 5 years ago

    @Thomas J, you're spot on; this contest is a waste of $50K. The only mistake you made was calling it a PIN code and not an "extension" (which you did later). Every telephone database already supports that, and people are accustomed to the concept of an "extension". Also, this could be implemented in any cordless phone base station:

    Have a list of trusted callers that are automatically put through.

    Have a list of blocked callers that are automatically dumped.

    And then offer callers that are not on either of those lists the opportunity to key in the "extension", or press "O" to leave a message.

    You could even configure the phone to move callers that use a valid "extension" to the trusted list. Put simply, a cordless base station now becomes its own little PBX. And of course, this could be virtualized by any service provider, e.g., to support mobile.

    Finally, as to having to allow "First-Amendment" robocalls through, I have an absolute right to reject any call that I don't want, whether I do it, or have a machine do it for me.

  •   •   almost 5 years ago

    @thomas j... ...guess the sheer number of comments and iterations answers your initial question! not as easy as you think :)

  •   •   almost 5 years ago

    @thomas: I would definitely buy your box. The problem I have right now is I get as many calls from robocaller "Cardholder Services" on my cell phone as my landline and I can't add that hardware to my cell phone.

    As @DS noted, the landline device need only behave like a PBX. "Please enter your parties extension. Press X to leave a message." If "X" changes randomly then a robocaller would only have a 1 in 12 (0-9,* and #) chance of reaching my voicemail.

    It could be made even more secure by giving a prompt like "Please add 2 to 4 and key in that number to reach voicemail.

    (I didn't see this contest until after the deadline)

  •   •   almost 5 years ago

    i wrote a software to solve this robocall problem.
    started the project the day i heard about it on TV.
    got a working prototype 2 months later.
    see a working demo on my website, www.sokha.com

    my project just approved by FTC yesterday.
    i believe it's currently on page 41.
    name of the project, ZapIt.

    originally, i wanted to do something like this around 1996.
    for the lack of funding and interest, it was in the back burner until FTC acknowledged the issue.
    of course, the $50K incentive is nice but i believe it's very small compare to the actual problem.
    the incentive should be at least $1 million for the top winner, imho.

  •   •   almost 5 years ago

    Thomas J, the problem with your pin number system, which is essentially a white list, is that it blocks anyone from calling you who is not already one of your contacts. This could have unintended consequences, for example, suppose you wish to advertise to rent out a room in your home. How would potential renters be able to phone you if they didn't have your pin number?

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