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This month’s National Consumer Protection Week conference enlightened us about several new initiatives by two of the nation’s federal consumer protection agencies.

Deborah Marrone, Regional Director for the Federal Trade Commission’s Northeast Regional Office, spoke about current and future protections against robocalling – an illegal telemarketing practice where Robocall robots auto-dial consumers without their express consent.  These calls have been been prohibited by federal law since 2009 and the federal government is examining the exposure of consumer privacy when they are made.

Not every type of automated phone call is prohibited by this regulation.  Emergency phone calls – like severe weather alerts or states of emergency – are still allowed and very much needed for municipalities and relevant government agencies to contact their citizens in times of concern.  Political phone calls, like reminders about elections, are still allowed, as they’re considered an important public service announcement.

Though the FTC’s prohibitions have been fairly successful in eliminating robocalls, regulators still face challenges.  Scammers somehow find a way to utilize the newest technology to their advantage, and the need for new ways to block these illegal calls is evident.  Recently the FTC put out a challenge to innovators to create solutions that will block illegal robocalls.

After receiving nearly 800 eligible submissions, the agency announced its two individual winners, Serdar Danis and Aaron Foss, who tied for the $50,000 prize for Best Overall Solution.  Both winning ideas focus involve technology to “blacklist” robocaller phone numbers and “whitelist” numbers that you want to accept, filtering out robocallers using a CAPTCHA-style test to prevent these illegal calls from being transmitted to a consumer’s telephone.

The FTC also accepted a winner for the Robocall Challenge Technology Achievement Award, with applicants from an organization with ten or more employees. Daniel Klein and Dean Jackson from Google won for their idea that involves using automated algorithms to identify “spam” callers.

For more information on robocalls, the robocall challenge and its winners, visit www.ftc.gov/robocalls.  Click here for information and to sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry; click here for the Massachusetts Do Not Call Registry.

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