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The Pudding provides free ad-supported phone calls by eavesdropping

The PuddingBack in 2004 when Google announced its new e-mail service would "read" your messages in order to serve up relevant advertisements, privacy advocates around the world shuddered. Three years later, most folks hardly bat an eye at the concept.

But there's still something a bit creepy about a similar business model put forward by internet telephony startup The Pudding. The web service will let you make free phone calls from your PC to any land line. The Pudding is completely web-based. There's no software to download, you just plug a headset into your computer, open up a web page and dial away.

Here comes the creepy part. The reason The Pudding can let you make phone calls for free is because the site will serve up relevant advertisements. And it will determine relevance by listening in on your conversation.

There won't be a room filled with people listening to you talk with your best friend about relationship trouble with your spouse. But a computer will be listening and using voice recognition software to serve up on-screen ads for divorce lawyers. The company is also working on a way to send ads to the cellphone screen of the person you're calling.

We imagine at first people will just make sure to only use The Pudding for completely trivial conversations. But if the service proves trustworthy, at some point, they'll forget about the eavesdropping and use it on a regular basis, much as they do Gmail. And while there may be no real difference between the two companies' business model, eavesdropping still feels a bit more invasive than screenreading.

[via The New York Times]

Tags: eavesdropping, privacy, the-pudding