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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Free speech ain't free...and apparently, now it's really creepy

Doh Just innocently minding my own business reading through some brainy blogs and I'm hit with this blunder of a business model--as David Reich explains on his blog:

"There's a new pudding that makes my stomach a bit queasy.  It's called Pudding Media and The New York Times wrote about it yesterday.  The company, based in Silicon Valley, just introduced a web phone service that will allow people unlimited free calling.  But there's a catch, which is what makes me nervous.

In exchange for free phone calls, Pudding will listen in on your conversation to see what you're talking about.  Voice recognition software will pick up on key words or phrases and then send you ads, by email or directly to your computer screen, based on what you've been talking about."

Please tell me this will go away. Or mocked immensely and then go away (so that unlike Britney, it doesn't come back).

According to the company's CEO "Pudding Media had considered the privacy question carefully. The company is not keeping recordings or logs of the content of any phone calls, he said, so advertisements only relate to current calls, not past ones, and will only arrive during the call itself."

So you bother me DURING my call? When I'm actually trying to have the conversation?

The CEO also thinks that young people, the group his company is focusing on with the call service, "are less concerned with maintaining privacy than older people are."

Whether or not young people want privacy isn't the issue--an arrogant assumption, btw--the issue is that you're a grown-up preying upon them in the name of "targeted advertising."

And that's really creepy.

I've said it oh so many times before, but here goes once more: Marketers, just focus on creating, innovating and maintaining exemplary products, services and experiences. You'll be amazed how your markets will gladly give you their time, money and loyalty without your needing to waste precious ad dollars stalking them.

They might even call you.

PS: The way this company validates this model? They pass the buck with this gem, "Pudding Media executives said that scanning the words used in phone calls was not substantially different from what Google does with e-mail." Gotta love it when a new company defends themselves by using another company's pesky practices...instead of promoting itself on its own merits.


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While I agree 100% with your POV here, CK, you're missing one key thing: you don't have to opt in to this service.

Sure, unlimited free calls may be real enticing to some, but it's up to the individual to accept "the catch".

My guess is that this product will fade away pretty quick as actual users realize how disruptive – on may levels – this idea seems to be.

"This conversation may be recorded for quality assurance purposes" takes a whole new meaning! What I want to know is why can we think of such sophisticated ways to put one over people (talk at them) and yet we do not use the information we already have to serve them? "We" is anyone who has already plenty of data and mines it for self.

I'm still trying to figure out how this would work-- physically.

Is it an audio ad that interrupts your phone call?

Or a texted ad that you can't see because the phone is up against your ear because you're talking on it.

On the other hand CK, while I share your horror, it seems to be part of this two-tier system that's being created where people who can afford to will avoid commercials by paying a fee and people who can't afford to will have their media habits supported by ad sales.

And all that implies.

CK - this is just. so. wrong.

If I ever get a call from someone using a Pudding phone, I'm going to repeat the phrase "gay porn". That'll teach 'em.

@Mark: I think they have to opt-in since they need to sign-up, yes? And yes, I'm hoping it fades away and fast. There are disruptive technologies that make great change...and then there remain myopic marketers (unlike you ;-).

@Valeria: MOST excellent point. Thank you for pointing this out. When I have a problem and I'm speaking to a customer service agent I often say "make sure to note this conversation to be heard by your supervisor since you're recording it." I often wonder if they do listen.

@Toad: Like I've discussed with you before, advertising is a price I pay...and paying for Typepad (blog service) or TiVo (tv recording service) are ways I pay to not withstand it. When advertising is done right it offers me value by informing or entertaining me. When it's done wrong, well, now I'll just say "they pulled a Pudding."

@Ike: I'm telling you, I thought this a joke when I first read it. THIS is the kind of stuff that makes us marketers look like evil, self-centered scavengers. Ick.

As I understand it, once you opt to use this Pudding service, you get ads based on your conversation sent via email. I don't think they interrupt the actual call with an ad.

I;ve heard of phone services where it's free but you have to listen to a brief ad before you get connected. It's a pain, but it's your choice in exchange for a free call. But this is different because they're actually listening (even if it's by machine) to your private conversation.

Definitely not for me. Besides, calls are so cheap now that I don't think it's worth it to be bombarded by yet more ads online.

All: They show you ads on your computer through their app (just like when you look at your computer when you're using Skype). And then you finish your call and...voila!...you get an email with a lot of offers. Or a battery of emails with one offer each.

Absolutely people opt-in to this service to use it. Problem is, forget free: it goes over the line. I can't even see the line from where this company is standing.

It's neither targeted nor innovative.

I'll spend my time doing my job of creating a targeted service, product or experience that makes my market so happy they pay for the service and are long-term customers. Not fly-by-night youth who are now destined to remain in databases that get handed-off and sold to partners until the end of time when they're no longer young. A life of brave new technologies and lots o' SPAM awaits them.

My I am one mouthy marketer today. It's not just bad practice; it's bad ethics and, as you readers and friends know, that touches a nerve for me ;-). Thanks. for the voice-in, folks.

I've got two issues (at least) that don't appear to have been discussed yet.

They say the calls aren't recorded or monitored, it's all automated. But there must be some way for them to check how well the system is working. How would they know the correct words are being targeted for response? How would they know the correct response matches up with the targeted word? They would have to somehow review the conversation and their responses, wouldn't they?

And just how are the target words determined? Every noun? That's going to be a lot of emails. Repetition? Wonder what kind of ad the caller will get if he curses a lot. What if I'm telling a friend that I don't ever want to eat at Olive Garden again. Do I then get ads for Olive Garden even though I expressed a dislike for the place?

@Pete: Excellent issues. Thanks for more clarity. When a business model raises more issues than benefits, it's not clever. It's a trainwreck.

net net: technology is here to facilitate conversations and make far-reaching ones possible. But it is not a replacement for marketing. Oh how they'll try with AI systems. And fail. I just don't want them to give marketing any more of a stigma in their try-and-fail process.

What a great example with Olive Garden. I also loved Ike's scheme to trick the system.

While I love reading the discussion here, I can't seem to get riled up over this. If it delivers value for consumers and marketers, it will be viable. If it's too intrusive for consumers or not effective enough for advertisers, it won't work, and it's on to the next idea.

Meanwhile, if marketing was all about creating exemplary products, there wouldn't be a need for advertising.

@DB: "If it's too intrusive for consumers or not effective enough for advertisers, it won't work, and it's on to the next idea."

My problem is the issue supporting the idea. It's too far on privacy. Pushing the envelope is innovative; pushing privacy, to me, is unethical.

"Meanwhile, if marketing was all about creating exemplary products, there wouldn't be a need for advertising."

You're talking to a marketing purist here ;-). Actually, marketing is all about creating and maintaining those exemplary products. When it does that well and consistently? It's amazing how little advertising is actually needed.

"Marketers, just focus on creating, innovating and maintaining exemplary products, services and experiences."

The problem is, marketers are so frequently insulated from the actual wants and needs of their customers, that they can convince themselves that an idea like this IS innovative.

CK - I don't think this is something we're going to have to worry much about. It will not only fade, but implode.

I have no idea how advanced this technology is supposed to be, but I'd trust ads I've consciously opted into more than I would those that rely on a system that tries to guess my preferences based on a curse-laden diatribe about a politician I don't like.

My cynical take - TJX "didn't hold onto credit card data any longer than needed" and the Pudding People (as they shall henceforth be known) won't be recording...a whiff of doubt is passing me. Still passing. Wait, it's a cloud now. Hell, it's become a fog bank.

I feel icky now. (PS, I LOVE Ike's idea...)

S C A R Y!!!! Of course, we already let Google listen to our email, read Google calendars, spreadsheets and word processing docs in exchange for the right to post ads. We give all search engines the right to our attention data on our web surfing habits. And the National Security Agency has installed equipment on the premises of every telco provider that enables law enforcement and spy agencies to eavesdrop on your conversations legally with a court order (or under Bush, illegally and without it). It's just a matter of turning it on. The equipment is already installed.

So we're already way down the road which means I'm not really surprised that a company wants to give away free calling for the right to serve ads based on the words.

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