Monday, September 24, 2007

Eavesdropping For Fun & Profit

Was that the free hand of the market reaching into my telephone, or are they just happy to see me?
Pudding Media, a start-up based in San Jose, Calif., is introducing an Internet phone service today that will be supported by advertising related to what people are talking about in their calls. The Web-based phone service is similar to Skype’s online service — consumers plug a headset and a microphone into their computers, dial any phone 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.

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.

Let’s hope this idea finds a place in the bad product cemetery right beside New Coke and Crystal Pepsi. Seriously, how much can customers prostitute themselves? We went from 10-cents a minute to free calls--if you let us listen in and shove advertisements your way? And it gets worse:

Pudding Media is working on a way to e-mail the ads and other content to the person on the other end of the call, or to show it on that person’s cellphone screen.

Let me go on record as saying, if you are a Pudding Media customer, do not call me. Ever.

I’ve blogged about this before but I am offended that corporate America sees me as nothing more than a giant throbbing wallet. Whatever happened to innovators whose creations were conceived to make life better for people? Now all they’re designed to do is make money for someone.

I’m tired of the constant assault of advertising. You can’t walk out the door without being hit with dozens of advertising messages. They’re on billboards, on the grocery cart at the store, on public transportation, not to mention what you hear on the radio.

It’s relentless and the message is always the same: buy! Buy this! Buy that! Buy buy buy! Buy me! Have we really become a nation of whores? Or is this the inevitable result when you have an economy no longer based on creating things, and now based solely on consuming things?

[UPDATE]: A poster over at Digby's pointed this out, which I neglected to mention:

Mr. Maislos founded Pudding Media with his brother, Ruben. Each had spent several years doing intelligence work for the Israeli military.

Great selling point, guys. We've got the Mossad creating a service where they can eavesdrop on your phone calls, yeah I'll be signing right up. {eyeroll}

And here's another point: Maislos claims that “The trade-off of getting personalized content versus privacy is a concept that is accepted in the world.” But I don't want personalized content. Americans run from advertisements, we fast-forward on the TiVo, we have Spam-blocking, we sign up for "Do Not Call" lists. In short: we do not want this crap. Quit shoving your "personalized content" at me because I don't want it.