Killing Robocalls

August 17, 2015 by Bryan Moyles

What an awesome day it was when Ethan and I were awarded the grand prize for killing robocalls at the FTC’s Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back hosted at DEF CON 23. We came up with a creative solution and implemented it over the course of a few months with the help of a few friends. I’m so proud of what RoboKiller has become as it has turned into a full-fledged product that helps the world stay protected from the incessant spam calls that haunt all of us.

Ethan and I at our RoboKiller booth at DEF CON 23

Why Did We Build It?

Well, robocalls really are a huge problem that has been largely unaddressed, or addressed through caller ID blacklists. Working for a company that implements spoofing, a super ninja ability to make your caller ID turn into WHATEVER you’d like, I knew that caller ID blacklists would never work in the long run. We felt that the only way to address the problem, was to trick the robocallers into revealing themselves, crowdsource that information, and kill the robocallers at the root.

How Does It Work?

So in all fairness, the implementation has changed a lot since its early days, so this is simply a brief explanation for how it worked back in 2015! It’s a pretty controversial yet effective solution. We ask you to forward ALL of your calls to our servers, we analyze the caller for ~4 seconds while they hear ringing, and if we deem that it’s a human, we send the call back to you via a SIP call to a SIP client that is embedded in our app. Why does this work? It’s because robots are not the brightest… yet… and they are triggered by one of two things. Either the phone being answered, which our system does, or by audio, which we also accomplish by playing artificial ringing to the caller.

A Wonderful Experience

It has been pretty hectic the last few months trying to get everything ready for this competition, and we were definitely restless as the judging phase began. I’m so thankful for the awesome opportunity to build something great that can really make the lives of millions of people better through one simple app, and push the industry to fight against the rise of robocalls. I’m really thankful that we won and that all of our hard work made a positive ripple in the world. Kudos to all of the competitors, it was an honor to compete for the greater good of humanity!

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