FTC Offers $50,000 Prize to End Robocalls

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Economists have long touted the value of prizes to motivate innovation. One of the most famous recent examples is the X Prize, a $10 million prize that was promised to the first private team that could safely launch a three-passenger craft 100 kilometers into space twice within two weeks. The prize was eventually won in 2004 by Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne.

Today, the FTC announced a prize for a far more worthy cause:

After years of using traditional regulatory tools to block billions of illegal marketing calls, the FTC says, the agency is launching a public contest in search of new technical solutions.

The prize: $50,000.

….The agency will be taking entries between Oct. 25 and Jan. 17. Judges will score proposals based on workability (worth 50 percent), ease of use (worth 25 percent) and the idea’s potential for a wide rollout (worth 25 percent). Applicants can submit ideas to block pre-recorded marketing calls on landlines, cellphones or both.

Hooray! Seriously. I don’t know if this will work, and I don’t know if $50,000 is enough, but this is a great idea. It’s exactly the kind of thing that might prompt some unappreciated genius to come up with a harebrained idea that’s just crazy enough to work. We should do more stuff like this.

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And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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