•   almost 11 years ago

Block Calls like Google Voice - Submission Not Published - Why Not?

The following suggestion was submitted to http://robocall.challenge.gov on
1/3/2013. As of 1/7/2013 it has not been published. Can anyone suggest why it might have been held back from publication? Perhaps it really takes the reviewers that long? Or is it something else?

We heard about this challenge on NPR yesterday. It occurred to us that most
of the technology needed to handle it has already been implemented by Google
Voice. Why reinvent the wheel?

One of our "unofficial" young team members, Robin (17), is very familiar
with Google Voice and its capabilities. He's been using it for some time

Robin did some quick manual tests to verify that the features of Google
Voice closely match what the FTC Robocall Challenge is looking for.

Here's our approach:

.) Implement a service like Google Voice (or license
Google's service). Let's call our new service "FTC
Block" (or "FB" for short).

.) If you are having robocall troubles, you will need
to signup for FB. Doing so will get a new phone number
assigned to you. Let's say your new phone number is
123-456-7890. This new phone number will automatically
route calls to whatever existing phone you have.

Now suppose that two people are trying to call you at 123-456-7890: your
friend Chris (123-555-1234) and Robo Joe (123-555-4321).

.) The first time Chris calls you at 123-456-7890, she
will hear your greeting asking her to leave a voice
message. The message will be translated from audio to
text and emailed to you along with Chris's identifying
phone number (123-555-1234) together with a copy of the
audio message as an MP3 attachment.

.) The body of the email (with Chris's voice message
text) will also include a link asking if you would like
to add Chris to your contact list. There will also be a
link asking if you would like to permanently block
Chris's phone number. You decide to add Chris to your
contact list. Do nothing and the calls will just go to

.) Next you get a call from Robo Joe (123-555-4321).
The email text obviously shows Joe to be a robocaller,
so you click the "Block Caller" link. The next time Joe
calls, you will get no phone call or email. You will
never even know that he called.

.) The next time Chris calls you, her call will ring
through to your smart phone, your dumb phone, your land
line or your VOIP line (whatever you setup). Why?
Because Chris is now on your contact list.

.) If you would prefer to manually provide a contact
list (while initially setting up your FB service or
at a later time), that option will also be available.

Of course, if you currently have robocall trouble on an existing phone line,
those problem calls will still get through on that phone number directly. To
use this approach successfully, you may initially have to change the phone
number of your current phone. In the future, such a phone number change (if
necessary) will be completely transparent to your contacts. This is so since
they will only know about your FB phone number and they can continue to call
you that way without any problems.

We hope to implement at least some of this functionality for demo purposes
at FTCblock.com (before the challenge deadline):


Here are the challenge judging criteria questions:

Q) Does it work?

Yes, it works. How do we know? Because most (but not
all) of the functionality described here has already
been proven in the marketplace by Google.

Q) Is it easy to use?

Yes, it is very easy, especially considering
the automated way of approving new contacts.

Q) Can it be rolled out?

Yes, most of it has already been
put into production by Google.


  • Manager   •   almost 11 years ago

    Hi George,

    Thanks for writing and for entering the FTC Robocall Challenge. Each submission needs to be reviewed by a human challenge manager before being published in the gallery. We have had a great response to the challenge and therefore it will take some time to review all the submissions we've received. That said, you can rest assured that your app will be reviewed and we will reach out to you if there are any issues.

    Feel free to email me directly at support@challengepost.com with any additional questions. Thanks, George.


  •   •   almost 11 years ago

    Any chance you are in the DC area? We are looking for people to interview for a TV story. thanks, colleen

  • Manager   •   almost 11 years ago

    Hi all,

    Just wanted to let you know that ChallengePost and the Federal Trade Commission will not give preference to any submitter who responds to, or participates in any interview. Participating in any interview will not influence how a submission is scored or a submission's chances of winning a prize. Please contact support@challengepost.com with any questions.


  •   •   almost 11 years ago

    Oops! I hope you didn't get us into trouble Colleen (Wordock?)!

    Sadly no, we're way down here near Disney World.

  •   •   almost 11 years ago

    This is perhaps 'too' technical for the normal person to use. There is a LOT of web/Internet interaction with lists to manually maintain and messages being emailed and things to configure and so on...and so on.

    In Internet Guru would have no trouble getting this too work but that is not the target market for this contest.

  •   •   almost 11 years ago

    Don't waste your time, George. While GV is the answer and has been around for a long time, this is an example of our tax dollars at work. This project is not interested in solutions that actually work and are currently already in place. They want someone to conjure up some monstrous concoction just to be different. It is the very same old adage this type of program has not learned yet, evidently; let the market place dictate viable solutions rather than our government.

  •   •   almost 11 years ago

    @Lee C

    We appreciate your feedback Lee, but I think your view gives us a hint that we didn't do a very good job of explaining the approach.

    The list maintenance is automatic and emails are as old as the hills. There is nothing to configure (and so on...and so on) after you've identified which phone to forward calls to.

    It's actually much simpler than many of the other ideas we've seen posted here.

  •   •   almost 11 years ago

    @Arnaud W

    Come on now Arnaud, let's not be so pessimistic. Some parts of the US government are smarter than others.

    The fact that we are able to make open suggestions this way says much about the FTC, especially if they leave this information easily accessible in perpetuity. That way we can all compare whatever solution they ultimately choose to what was originally suggested and give them kudos if it all works out or hold the proper decision makers accountable if their choice proves to be a mistake in the long run.

  •   •   almost 11 years ago

    I like this idea, but I have a key suggestion to make is simpler: when someone signs up for FTC Block, their existing number gets ported to a platform that supports the blocking capability (like porting a number to a different service provider). That way, the phone number doesn't change, which will otherwise be an inhibitor to many and will minimize adoption.
    Keep in mind that senior citizens and low-income families do not always have or use regular access to e-mail. Although, admittedly, these situations are becoming generationally smaller.

  •   •   almost 11 years ago

    Hello, fellow digital citizens! I hope you are enjoying your weekend. Even grumpy, Arnaud. I don't agree with what you said, Arnaud, but I understand where you are coming from. That is why I always make sure there is NO POOP on my cheerios before I start eating them.


    I just came across Challenge.gov last night and am very excited to participate in this challenge. With the impending deadline I am concerned about coding my solution, but I could definitely write the technical specification, workflow diagrams to highlight key aspects of my solutions logic, cover some component specifics, and provide the overall pitch/presentation. There is no code though; it could be manually followed, but I can promise that I will be able to code a prototype too. Would that count against me significantly? I seem to remember reading that you guys would be tolerant of "vaporware" during initial presentations, but we would have to code them later. Did I also see that I could request a dataset of robocalls from 2009? I'll go look around for that again, but since I am late out of the gates, and brand-new to Challenge.gov, I want to make sure that I am going in the right direction. Thanks.


    Am I understanding correctly that you are a solver for this challenge, not part of the group that posed the Robocaller callenge? You registered FTCBlock to host your solution too? Cool. Yes, I have been using (like so many others) Google Voice to help manage people calling me. I'm sure you realize this, but you don't "have" to have G-Voice email you when a call comes in on your line. That is configurable in your GVoice settings. I'm sure you knew that; however, didn't you specifically describe that a user would "block" a robocaller through (or maybe just "after") they got the email? ... because you are reading the voice transcription, right? That's how you said "it was obvious that it was a robocaller", right? That transcription can be sent to you via SMS instead of or in addition to the email transcription.

    I'm not trying to pick on you, George. I'm just trying to make sure I understand Challenge.gov and my, like I said, solving my first challenge here with you guys. Yep! I'm losing my v-card. I'm always going to remember this experience and I want it to be perfect!

  •   •   almost 11 years ago

    @Eric N

    Yes, call porting is already supported by GV for many existing phone numbers. We inadvertently left that out of our spec. Thanks for mentioning it.

    @Guy H

    Yes indeed, the text could be sent via SMS instead. We mentioned email as the obvious universal choice which everyone understands best. Bear in mind though, the text sent (either email or SMS) would differ from GV's emails in that links are added to handle future blocking or contact list inclusion.

    We agree about the coding deadline Guy. We were hoping to put out a demo of some kind, but only if the proposal actually gets published. Now we fear that it will be too late (ie. no time left). C'est la vie.

  • Manager   •   almost 11 years ago

    Hi Guy,

    Thanks for writing and for your interest in the FTC Robocall Challenge. A prototype is not required in order to enter the competition.

    Per the Official Rules, entrants are required to:
    "(ii) Create a technical proposal describing how the Solution functions, or would function, if implemented (the “Proposal”). Solutions can be proposed as technical solutions or functional solutions and proofs of concept."

    You can find the Robocall Complaint Data Request Form here:

    Feel free to write us at support@challengepost.com if you have additional questions. Thank you.


  •   •   almost 11 years ago


    Yes, some only, or very few in reality. Haven't you heard, we are over 16 trillion in debt? And yes, every penny adds up. Despite an obviously already functioning solution, this is a fun exercise. I am still not convinced that this government portal is the right forum through which these fun contests should be directed. Can we get your Senators and and Representatives to take a pay cut to pay for this so that this is revenue neutral?

  •   •   almost 11 years ago

    @Arnaud W


    @Marny S

    I think most folks understand that a demo is not really necessary Marny, but it certainly couldn't hurt! (unless it doesn't work of course)

    It's just a shame that the process is so cumbersome (apparently) that there is no more time for Guy's team or ours to get one done.

    We have a hard time understanding why it would take 2 weeks to review what is posted at the top of this thread. Did you really get such a tremendous outpouring of submissions after that NPR broadcast?

  •   •   almost 11 years ago

    Do you think the servers that handles Google Voice would be able to support all phones in the US?

    How would the elderly be able to handle this system and/or change? Are they out of luck or do they just need to keep receiving robo and spoof callers?

  • Manager   •   almost 11 years ago

    Hi George,

    I can't provide numbers, but yes, we have had a great response to the challenge.


  •   •   almost 11 years ago

    @Jonathan M

    The submission title and our first bullet uses "like": "Implement a service like Google Voice (or license Google's service)."

    If the FTC believes it can implement such a service better than Google, then all they need is Google's example, not its servers.

    Yes, I think that certain folks would be left out of this or any other practical solution. For example, my mother would be excluded because she refuses to use any device connected to the internet. Whereas my father, who is almost 80, would be included since he uses an internet connected PC every day.

    @Marny S

    Thanks for your ongoing feedback Marny. But I am sorry to say that not providing numbers sounds like a cop out. Why would you withhold such information? Also, why not let participants publish directly (assuming that's what they want)? Why the need for a middle man?

    Wouldn't it be easier to have all submissions published first then redacted later (if necessary)? What does the FTC fear if it was to allow direct and immediate publication of submissions (like you do in this forum)?

  •   •   almost 11 years ago

    I agree with George about the submissions, what difference does it make if we know the number of submissions? Besides, the only visibility is the summary and a picture, not much about the solution. Not only that, many of the solutions that do show are so impractical it makes you wonder how long it takes to review such solution before it gets posted. I've been monitoring to see what new submissions there are and I see only a handful a week posted even though it takes less than 5 minutes to read the summary, which is all that needs to be reviewed before posting. Quite frankly, I'm beginning to wonder if this is at all legit.

  • Manager   •   almost 11 years ago

    Hi George and Tony,

    We take the integrity of this challenge and all our challenges very seriously. Each submission needs to be reviewed by a human challenge manager before being published in the gallery to determine whether it meets the requirements of the challenge. We review submissions on a rolling basis, but it does take time. Your patience is much appreciated.

    Please email me directly at support@challengepost.com with any additional questions.


  •   •   almost 11 years ago

    To better understand the rate at which submissions are being reviewed, I noticed that nothing has been released since yesterday (ie. since "Jimmy's Virtual Phone Service" which coincidentally was submitted on the same day as this one and is very similar in approach [but Jimmy left out the key feature for usability - automated list management. GV alone is not quite enough]).

    Here's the progression of published submission volume since Christmas:

    12/26: 1
    12/27: 1
    12/28: 1
    12/29: 0
    12/30: 1
    12/31: 1
    01/01: 1
    01/02: 11
    01/03: 39

    As you can see there is a precipitous jump in activity on January 2. I think we can all guess why. Assuming January 3 is incomplete (which should be the case since our submission is still not published), I suspect that the 39 will likely increase quite a bit more.

    Can you say how many challenge managers are actually reviewing these submissions Marny? I suspect that the NPR story was unanticipated and you folks were unprepared for the sudden elevated level of response.

  •   •   almost 11 years ago

    Here's what Marny is spending her time on (besides messaging openly here), she wrote:

    Hi George,

    Thank you for entering a submission to the FTC Robocall
    Challenge. Can you confirm that you have the rights to
    use the photo included in your submission --
    specifically the Google logo?

    Per the Official Rules, contestants may not " infringe
    upon, misappropriate or otherwise violate any
    intellectual property right or proprietary right
    including, without limitation, any statutory or common
    law trademark, copyright or patent, nor any privacy
    rights, nor any other rights of any person or entity;
    or constitute or result in any misappropriation or
    other violation of any person’s publicity rights or
    right of privacy."

    If you do not have the rights to any content that is
    part of your submission, please remove it. You can edit
    your submission at any time up until the challenge
    deadline of January 17, 2013 at 5pm EDT.


    Take a look at http://FTCblock.com to see what all the fuss is about.

  •   •   almost 11 years ago


    I already have permission based on the concept of "fair use" from trademark and copyright law, see:


    Since I am not using anything copyrighted or trademarked by Google in the marketplace to sell a competing product; since I am merely using the word "Google" as a reference in this context; since Google would likely appreciate the free advertising anyway, I don't think we have anything to worry about.

    Please don't delay any longer in publishing our submission Marny.


  • Manager   •   almost 11 years ago

    Hi George,

    I've just messaged you through our platform.


  •   •   almost 11 years ago

    I'm afraid I have to disagree with you George. Quite frankly, I thought you were somehow related to the Google Voice development and if the picture you submitted has the word Google, it may be OK, but to use their logo, which is the colorful word that's easily associated with the company, then you're infringing. Just because Google's logo is a word does not give you fair use rights. The same goes with ebay. I don't think you're helping Google in any way by using their trademark logo like you do, if anything, it's more to your advantage. But more importantly, if this solution in fact works, I doubt Google will let you get away with it, after all, it appears you're advertising their solution, not your own. You may be proposing the service for an entirely different purpose, but if it works the same way as Google Voice, less some specifics, I highly doubt you can patent it.

  •   •   almost 11 years ago

    @Tony P

    Please reread the specification (first bullet):

    .) Implement a service like Google Voice (or license
    Google's service). Let's call our new service "FTC
    Block" (or "FB" for short).

    Our view is that licensing Google'a service makes the most sense. All that is necessary for a workable solution are a few minor additions, as described above.

    There is no need to reinvent the wheel (or try to patent it) when all that is needed are a few more spokes.

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