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KAI RYSSDAL: Imagine not having to pay anything to use a cell phone. It could happen — if you agree to give advertisers information about what you like, what you don’t… that sort of thing.
Sounds fine — but here’s the hitch: Those advertisers will get their information from a company that listens in on your conversations. Our New York bureau chief Jill Barshay reports on eavesdropping as the new business model.
JILL BARSHAY: Ariel Maislos spent 10 years in Israeli military intelligence. Ask him if he did any eavesdropping on the job:
ARIEL MAISLOS: [Laughter] No! No comments…
Maislos recently started Pudding Media in Silicon Valley. The company launched a new Internet phone service today — it listens in on your phone conversations and flashes ads and news on your computer screen related to what you are talking about.
MAISLOS: For example, you are talking about food and we bring in a piece of content about Sushi.
Maislos wants to make telephone service free to the public. This way, advertisers pay — a bit like network television. David Parmet is a marketing and public relations consultant for Internet companies. He questions whether people will talk about intimate subjects while Big Brother is listening.
DAVID PARMET: Well, I think as a consumer I would have problems with it. One is the obvious “ick” factor. That no matter how many fail-safes they say are in place, it still feels as if someone is listening in on my phone calls.
Maislos says there are no live people listening in. Computers equipped with speech recognition software pick out key words and match them to news and ads.
MAISLOS: The call itself isn’t recorded. Actually nothing that’s said is left in the system at the end of the call — we don’t remember anything.
So the conversation you have is supposed to govern what ads you see. But there’s a twist: Maislos has found in longer conversations, it’s the ads that drive what we talk about.
In New York, I’m Jill Barshay for Marketplace.
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