FTC Sued for Ignoring Own Contest Rules

FTC Sued for Ignoring Own Contest Rules

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) decided last year to inaugurate a $50,000 competition open to the public for ideas on how to get rid of illegal robocalls. But the FTC ignored its own judging instructions, through which an internal panel would pick the winners based on certain criteria.

David Frankel, an entrepreneur who submitted a a 15-page proposal that suggested phone companies collate their information to track robocallers to their addresses, lodged a complaint on Tuesday with the U.S. Federal Claims Court after he had called the FTC to find out why he didn’t win, was ignored, and subsequently filed a Freedom of Information Act request to ascertain the FTC scoring data and any other data about what criteria was used for judging. 

He had previously protested to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) but was dismissed with the explanation that the problem was not a contract-related matter.

Frankel concluded that the FTC has not shown any evidence of an internal panel that judged the entries, and has released no information about how the decision was made. He called the competition a publicity stunt, saying, “They solicited a bunch of ideas from the public but they didn’t really pay a lot of attention to what they got. Then they just made a bunch of press releases saying, ‘Oh, aren’t we a great agency because we enlisted the genius of the public?'”

One of the winners announced in April proposed identifying and targeting robocalls using software that could be a mobile app, and another suggested to send robocalls go another number that would cut them off automatically. Frankel criticized the FTC’s winners for relying so much on caller-ID.

Frankel, who is representing himself, said he hadn’t planned on lodging a complaint; he was only interested in finding out how the decision was made. He said:

I really thought I was pitching in to help solve a problem that annoys hundreds of millions of people in this country.  And I’ve been amazed at how resistant my government civil servants are in trying to engage with me to pursue that.