Last year, the Federal Trade Commission issued a public challenge to create “an innovative solution that will block illegal commercial robocalls on landlines and mobile phones” and offered a $50,000 cash prize for the best technological solution. At the time, David Vladeck, the Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the “winner of our challenge will become a national hero.”
One non-winner, on the other hand, has become a thorn in the agency’s side.
David Frankel entered the contest but did not win. He is now accusing the FTC – the agency that enforces the laws prohibiting deceptive marketing – of false advertising for failing to follow the rules of its own promotion.
After the winners were announced and Frankel – an experienced hand in the telecommunications industry – was not among them, he began his protest. First, he requested the grade for his entry (which involved having phone companies share data to track robocallers to their original addresses). When the FTC refused his request, Frankel filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the scores of all 798 submissions.
The FTC provided detailed score sheets for the seven finalists (which did not include Frankel) from judges Steve Bellovin, chief technologist at the FTC; Henning Schulzrinne, chief technologist at the FCC; and Kara Swisher, co-executive editor of All Things Digital. Entries were judged on three criteria: Does it work? (50%); Is it easy to use? (25%); and Can it be rolled out? (25%).
Still unsatisfied, Frankel began an e-mail exchange with Schulzrinne, who declined to get involved in the dispute. Using an original argument, Frankel then filed a complaint with the federal Government Accountability Office, arguing that the rejection of his submission equated to the government illegally denying a bid by a contractor. The GAO dismissed his complaint.
Undaunted, Frankel appealed the decision, and the GAO has until mid-September to respond. Frank recently told The Wall Street Journal that he is considering filing a lawsuit in federal court. “I’m trying to be a hero,” he said. “I’m trying to solve the problem.”
Why it matters: As evidenced by the story, even the FTC is not immune from allegations of false advertising and controversy over a contest. The agency declined to comment on the situation when asked by the WSJ, other than to note that “[a]ll the eligible submissions were reviewed.”