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FTC awards RIT grad for anti-telemarketer tech

RIT grad Aaron Foss, left, is pictured with Charles Harwood, acting director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Earlier this year Foss was recognized as one of two winners of the FTC’s first ever Robocall Challenge — which tasked participants with developing technologies that accurately block illegal automated phone calls. FTC

RIT grad Aaron Foss, left, is pictured with Charles Harwood, acting director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Earlier this year Foss was recognized as one of two winners of the FTC’s first ever Robocall Challenge — which tasked participants with developing technologies that accurately block illegal automated phone calls. FTC

How often have you sat down to a meal or settled in for time with family or friends only to be interrupted by a prerecorded call from a telemarketer? The Federal Trade Commission is betting it’s happened too many times — and recently awarded $25,000 to a former RIT student for coming up with a novel way to stop it.

RIT IT and MBA grad Aaron Foss, now a tech entrepreneur based out of Long Island, is one of two winners of the FTC’s first ever Robocall Challenge, which tasked participants with developing technologies that accurately block illegal automated phone calls.

“My day to day job is doing programming for corporations. It’s incredibly boring and it’s all behind the scenes,” Foss said. In contrast, the terms of the Robocall Challenge proved impossible to ignore — a concrete problem with a solution that is meaningful to everyday people, he said. “I really like solving interesting problems [like this].”

While automated calls are legal from candidates running for public office or charities seeking donations, those from businesses making unsolicited sales pitches are generally not, according to federal law. In addition, many such pitches are also scams aimed at the vulnerable and weak, contest organizers say.

Automated dialing technology allows telemarketers to call thousands of numbers every minute. While only a small fraction of those dialed respond, those that do can cumulatively earn big profits for telemarketers.

All challenge entries had to be effective, easy for potential consumers to use, and easily deployable on a large scale. Foss’ entry, dubbed Nomorobo, works on analog, digital and cellular phones and uses simultaneous ring technology, which allows incoming calls to be routed to a second telephone line. With Nomorobo, this second line would identify and disconnect from illegal robocalls before they could ring through to the human user.

The technology uses algorithm-based methods to identify the illegal telemarketers and adds their number to a database of known violators. In essence, it is spam software for telephone calls, Foss said.

Foss credits the education he received at RIT and its mixed focus on the creative arts and technology for giving him a great background to pursue the project.

As part of the terms of the contest, Foss retains the intellectual property rights to his invention and is actively looking for opportunities to license the technology or seed money to develop it further. Currently in the proof of concept stage, developing it into a beta version may be next on his list.

To find out more about Nomorobo, visit the project’s website at www.nomorobo.com.

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