Thursday, September 27, 2007

A free phone line, but the operator eavesdrops

26 Sep 2007, New Paper

YOU'VE seen those ads next to your Gmail inbox.

They are ads related to the content of your e-mail as Google, the company behind Gmail, scans e-mails to deliver ads.

Will people be as willing to let a company listen in on their phone conversations to do the same?

Pudding Media, a start-up in San Jose, California, introduced an Internet phone service yesterday that will be supported by advertising, related to what people are talking about in their calls.

The phone service is similar to Skype's online service - consumers plug a headset and a microphone into their computers, dial a number and chat away.

But unlike Internet phone services that charge by the length of the calls, Pudding Media offers calling without any toll charges, reported The New York Times.

The trade-off is that Pudding Media is eavesdropping on phone calls in order to display ads on the screen that are related to the conversation.

Voice recognition software monitors the calls, selects ads based on what it hears and pushes the ads to the subscriber's computer screen while he or she is still talking.

A conversation about movies, for example, will elicit movie reviews and ads for new films that the caller will see during the conversation.

It also filters out certain explicit words, for instance 'keywords with profanity and things you wouldn't want a 13-year-old to hear'.

Not surprisingly, such a service has raised more than a few eyebrows.

Said an advertising industry expert: 'We really have to look at the situation, because we're getting more intrusive with each passing technology.'

However, the company said that scanning the words used in phone calls was not substantially different from what Google does with e-mail.

Said Mr Ariel Maislos, CEO of Pudding Media: 'The trade-off of getting personalised content versus privacy is aconcept that is accepted in theworld.'

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