Pudding knows what you say on cellphone – and serves ads to match

Pudding Media, an ambitious San Jose company, is developing a way to detect the words you speak on a mobile phone. It will then make your calls free. It will pay for them by serving ads and other content relevant to the words you speak.

We’re the first bloggers to be able to try out the technology. It isn’t working too well right now and certainly isn’t ready for usage by kids, but it is very early in development. See below.

If this sounds ambitious, and technically challenging, that’s because it is. There’s also huge privacy implications involved with a company that taps into what you’re saying — although the company says it will ensure individuals’ identities are not linked with specific words they use, just like Google says it won’t publish words you search using its engine.

Pudding has been secretive until now, and we’ve been waiting to write about it, having talked with Ariel Maislos (see profile), chief executive and co-founder several months ago about his goal. His co-founder is his brother, Ruben. Like many other companies with Israeli founders, it has its roots in the Israeli army, where the brothers worked as intelligence experts.

Maislos previous founded Passave, a broadband company he sold last year to telecom chip-maker PMC-Sierra for $300 million. ThePudding raised $3.5 million from Opus Capital in May (see our coverage; scroll down).

With this latest venture, he’s brought on some key engineers, many of them from Israel. His ambition is significant. Maislos worries that he’s only got a short window in his creative life to launch another serious company. He says he wants this company to become a sort of Google for mobile phones, serving up ads, videos and entertainment and other content – almost as results to key word searches his server makes based on the words cellphone users are speaking.

Incredulous that technology exists right now to facilitate this, we asked Maislos how he’s going to pull this off. He smirks and suggests he’s got some tricks up his sleeve. It will take some time to perfect the product, but not too much, he says. It uses voice recognition technology to monitors the calls, and filters for words that match with those in its database.

Pudding’s technology aims to allow any communications provider – mobile carrier, Internet telephony service, even Web publisher – to offer new ad-supported calling plans. Advertisers, meanwhile, will be able to select from tens of thousands of keywords.

The company already has a testing version here: www.thepudding.com. You can enter a phone number and make a free call to any number in North America.

We tried it out. We started talking, and mentioned the words San Francisco and restaurant. You’ll see below that it catches the restaurant part, offering up tips about food. We didn’t see anything clearly marked about San Francisco however.

thepudding-try.jpg

This is early days. It didn’t do very well on other tests. On another call, we talked about going down to Santa Cruz, for swimming and surfing at the beach down there, hoping to catch some sun before the end of the summer. Somehow Pudding delivered ads about a Yale sex scandal, a sex blog, a philosophy course, an item about black women and, worse, another item with clear profanity. The company says its safe for kids, but this testing version certainly isn’t.

Pudding wants to offer news, sales offers and other content on the screen as you speak the words. Mention a movie, and you may see link to trailers, reviews and show times for nearby theaters. Talk about the Giants, and SF Giants game statistics may show up.

Eventually, Pudding Media says it will support any call: Mobile, and also fixed line and VoIP.

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