Crowd-Sourced Call Identification and Suppression

Federal Trade Commission Technology Achievement Award

We recommend the creation of a system that allows users to report, to an online database system, the originating telephone number of unwanted solicitations, advertisements or robotically placed calls (henceforth called “spammers”). We also recommend that users’ telephones or external hardware may automatically query the database about the telephone number of an incoming call (before the call is answered, or even before the telephone rings) to determine if the caller has been flagged as a spammer by other users, and optionally block the call or otherwise handle it differently from a non-spam call.

The recommended system thereby would provide a means whereby users can make reports of spam calls as well as ask if others have reported a caller as a spammer. While the first few people called would get spammed, after a sufficient number of reports are made, further calls would be blocked.

The recommended system would work on most types of telephonic platforms – smartphones, some feature phones, POTS lines, VoIP, PBX, and telephony providers – through the use of software and optional in-line hardware. In addition to crowd-sourced blacklisting, we also recommend a means to whitelist specific numbers so that, for example, emergency calls will always go through.


about 1 year ago

For VoIP, it is very easy to switch to another provider and get a new caller ID. This caller ID can be a foreign number.

about 1 year ago

What about calls with no caller ID? Spoofed caller ID?

about 1 year ago

These solutions that depend on Caller-ID seem to ignore the likely response of the robocallers should they find their calls getting blocked.

One possibility is that they will "appropriate" the Caller-ID of a white-listed number. This could be a number belonging to any institution making a lot of legitimate outbound calls (utility, airline, political organization, charity) or regional/community organizations (school, county/city government, medical facility).

More likely, they will use a different calling line ID for each outbound call. It could be a random (but valid) number, or it could be some other DESTINATION number off the list they are using. Some robocallers already do this; if they are calling a number in the 312 area code, they use a caller-ID starting with 312, followed by variable digits, to make the recipient of the call think that it is coming from a "neighbor".

It is unclear to me how the judges evaluated this, since caller-ID spoofing was explicitly discussed in the Summit and the criteria specifically ask about solution resilience to robocaller work-arounds.

about 1 year ago

RoboChoice solves for this specifically, and has many other key features.
The judging seems very shallow. Seems like they were overwhelmed and just picked a few that seemed representative without reading anything too long. Typical.

about 1 year ago

There are a number of applications out there that already do this. The problem is spammers keep changing their phone number ... sometimes with each call. How do you stop that? You could stop it entirely if you require the phone companies that own these spoofed numbers to make sure the numbers they own do not get stolen or spoofed. Make it the responsibility of big business to come up with a solution. (Even as I write this, I received yet another harassing phone call -- one of hundreds I've received in the last three years.)

about 1 year ago

@David F - I couldn't possibly agree more. The FTC is fully aware that systems reliant on CallerID are completely useless for stopping robo-callers. Being that all three "winners" rely on CallerID, the only possible logical conclusion is that the FTC actively and consciously does not wish to find a solution.

about 1 year ago

That does seem to be the case. RoboChoice, and probably others, specifically works around this issue, plus adds rich metadata tagging to calls from legitimate callers and provides a crowd-sourced reputation system.

So, shallow or half-hearted or ulterior motives? Lobbying by those with lucrative robo-calling businesses to make it easy to bypass any system and escape scrutiny? I'll be charitable and assume overload + ignorance, but it makes you wonder. I took it seriously, and published much of my solution, why didn't the FTC take this seriously?

about 1 year ago

As I feared, they were not looking for a consumer friendly solution to the problem.

They were seeking new ways to pick our pocket or offer us other services to pay for.

The solution is simple. They just need to fix the caller ID system and require accurate mandatory ID. That responsibility must start at the origin of the call and phone providers should be held responsible for the accurate identity of every call that originates through their service. If they can't identify who is calling us and give us their ID we shouldn't receive the call. And ID shouldn't cost us anything. It should be our right and the provider should provide all of us accurate ID out of customer appreciation.

We don't need filters or block lists. Most of these calls would just stop if the had to be identified. And if they didn't, they soon would if we called them back. Or if we had their real ID, we never need to answer that ID more than once. Then they make no money because they get no credit for that call.

The only problem with that solution is the providers make less money instead of more.

about 1 year ago

The ONLY way ANY solution will work is if phone companies have a way to positively identify the source of a call - tie a phone call to the source placing it. If they CAN do this and are not doing it - shame on them! If they "can't" presently do it, then they should find a way to stop ALL computer-generated calls - they are ALL discourteous, disrespectful, and an invasion of one's home. If someone wants to talk to someone else, they should have to place a normal call from one person to another (even - yes - (gasp) politicians)!!!

I like the premise of this solution since it places the control in the hands of the one who is being "spammed" by robocalls, which are angering because there is no way to stop or report it in any meaningful way, due to spoofing, and due to the telephone company allowing "phone banks" to generate robocalls.

As far as I'm concerned, and I imagine most citizens would feel the same as I do. ALL calls place by computer (so-called "robocalls") should be blocked - NO EXCEPTIONS - if someone wants to contact me, they should be required to personally place the call; yes, even (gasp) politicians.

There can be NO solution to this problem without solving the underlying cause - the ability to "spoof" phone numbers, or to place calls by computer from a "phone bank" with no legitimate "caller id" that is tied to the actual source of the call.

Even setting blocking to not put through any calls that do not display a "caller-id" will not work as long as hiding your real phone number is possible.

about 1 year ago

And how is this different from the "Community Telephony Firewall" submitted on November 15, 2012? (a full month earlier). This idea is nearly identical in every way except for the term "Crowd Sourcing" instead of "Community". Where is the integrity and ethics in the selection/review process? Should we all just wait until the last day of the entry deadline and submit a slightly revised solution?

about 1 year ago

B.S. as usual from bureaucrats. This can easily be solved via the Telcos and their expertise. I have 56 years in Telecom and have never heard such bunk answers. If the Govt. wanted to stop these calls, they would have ended years ago. The first Robo calls I made were over 50 years ago. We used the system to test new Telco Central offices. That was when they were still electro mechanical and today its computerized. Hey Wash. D.C. get off your Political @#$% and perform your jobs!!! OR GET OUT!

about 1 year ago

I'm a big proponent of Google Voice (GV), and even incorporated parts of it into my own solution. However, it's not clear how this solution is different than GV capabilities that are already available today.

Today you can already use GV's screening capabilities to get the exact behavior described above. GV already provides a way to classify incoming calls as spam ("Global Spam Filtering"). Furthermore, users can manage their own white lists and contacts using GV "Groups & Circles", and contact/group-"Call Screening". Finally, GV allows you to indicate if previously received calls (not yet classified as spam) should instead be blocked ("Block Caller"), including an optional "Not in Service" message (the doo-Doo-DOO intercept message).

If GV is already using this crowd sourced-based logic to determine that a caller is spam, then this is just a GV solution, and not new, according to the competition rules.

The only new piece is "optional in-line hardware" (perhaps they're suggesting home users setup Asterisk boxes?!). Otherwise, this solution can in effect be implemented today with unconditional call forwarding of a landline to GV for screening, then if approved, delivered to a 2nd phone. Again - not a new solution, by contest rules.

about 1 year ago

Winning Solutions:
Can't be explained
not practical
not ready to use and probably won't be

Do you want to start blocking now?

Go to:

A working system where you control who calls and when.

All you need is the Call Blocker and caller ID. No monthly fees!

You can even block entire area codes like 877 etc.

If you want something that works now then you need one of these.

A very happy customer,

Tom in Oshkosh

about 1 year ago

APRIL FOOLS - and you thought these 3 jokers were the winners. HaHa!

Stay tuned for the REAL WINNERS...

about 1 year ago

FTC is trying to solve the problem cheaply and this solution can be spoofed quite easily and cheaply costing less then the 50K FTC warded. Welcome to the world of more robocall than ever before.

I tend to believe that the judges were not well informed how the telephone system, VOIP and other technologies work.

about 1 year ago

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about 1 year ago

I would like to see the evaluation of these solutions to the requirements listed. In each of the winners I don't see technical coverage for all the requirements.

about 1 year ago

Regrettably, the winning submissions are built on and are disclosed after the patentable submissions made by others. Should I file a provisional patent application to protect my rights, this may be a problem for your winners. Late entries clearly copy and build on the ideas of earlier entries. I hope this doesn't cause a problem for you or the "winners".

about 1 year ago

The Caller ID system is a cheep set of meta-data ontop of the actual call. Anyone who has worked with VoIP systems know, that when a call comes in there is ALWAYS a source of some sort, be it a TN or IP, that cannot be spoofed. If the spam filter worked on this, then it would be 100% effective.

about 1 year ago

The one sending the robocall (robocall sender) sends X number of telephone number of recipient robocall (e.g. 50) plus a telephone number belonging to the robocall sender and computer with a program to detect if the telephone number belonging to the robocall sender rings, if it rings then the robocall number from the robocaller is still good, if it doesn't it means that the number is in the list and the computer produces another number and continue to call.

That simple!

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