The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is offering a $50,000 cash prize to anyone who can develop a technical solution to so-called 'robocalling', preventing automated and unwanted calls from reaching their targets. Set to be awarded as part of the FTC Robocall Challenge, which opens on October 25th, the prize is available to individuals, teams, and business employing up to 10 people — according to David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, whoever bags the award "will become a national hero."

"The vast majority of commercial robocalls are illegal."

While the rhetoric may be somewhat overblown, the problem of robocalling is real. Despite legal and regulatory attempts to stamp out the practice — according to the FTC, "the vast majority of commercial robocalls are illegal unless the recipient has given the caller advance written permission to call them" — scammers and telemarketers have persisted in the use of automated dialling tools and recorded messages. In an effort to boost the development of a technical solution, the FTC is offering potential inventors a swathe of anonymized complaint data, including the dates and times of calls, and the first seven digits of offending phone numbers.

The launch of the challenge follows a robocalling summit held at the beginning of this month with the explicit aim of stamping out the practice. Applicants have until January 17th to submit their solutions, which will then be assessed by a panel of judges including chief technologists from both the FTC and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and journalist Kara Swisher from All Things D.