Robocalls, those automated dial-ups that often disseminate false information about low-interest loans or political candidates, have proven a difficult blight to eliminate.
Besieged with citizens complaints, the Federal Trade Commission is offering a $50,000 bounty to anyone who can stop these unwanted sales calls. The Pentagon's research agency, DARPA, is offering an even bigger prize, $2 million, to advance the state of the art in robotics.
Telemarketers insist robocalls are not a preferred marketing vehicle. Yet, these illegal calls persist in proliferation.
The robocall is an illegitimate cousin to the push poll, a faux research technique that attempts to deliver a message under the guise of asking a question.
This is the season when people push the limit on techniques that pose as credible surveys, but really are nothing but sophisticated forms of bullhorns blasting from trucks driving down the street.
Like other forms of predators, robocalls and push polls hide in the crowd of unrelenting political advertising, much of it fudging the truth. It is hard to tell the boundaries between right or wrong, between useful information and unmitigated propaganda.
In such a fetid environment, whoppers can sound like wow-inspiring statements or aha moments. Such as in 2000 when South Carolina voters were asked if they knew John McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child. Or in 2008 when Jewish voters in Florida were asked about Barack Obama's alleged links to the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
Responsible researchers don't resort to robocalls or push polls. They guard the integrity of legitimate research instruments, which are vital to business and political interests eager to find out what people really think.
However, public frustration, along with cynicism, is growing with phony tactics. Increasing numbers of people refuse to participate in surveys, whether legitimate or not. This can make marketing efforts and public opinion more expensive and less reliable.
Credible research professionals agree with voters and average citizens that robocalls and push polls have no place in our marketplace of ideas. They distort the truth rather than reveal authentic findings.
If you have a great idea, respond to the FTC robocall challenge with a strategy that "must work, be easy to use, and be easy to implement and operate in today's marketplace."
If you get a push poll, don't hang up; demand to know who is responsible and report them to the attorney general.