Total Pageviews

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Paltalk Tries to Take Advantage of Its Prism Notoriety

Internet companies have done everything in their power to distance themselves from Prism, the N.S.A.’s secret Internet spying program. Except for one.

Paltalk, the least well-known company in Prism, is also the only company seemingly proud to be included.

For Paltalk, a video chat service, its 15 minutes of fame came at an opportune time. The 14-year-old company happens to be in the middle of a makeover and a sales pitch, with a new tablet app this week and more changes on the way.

While other companies worried that Prism might hurt their brands, Paltalk reported a surge in usage after the leak, which it attributed to people learning about the company for the first time. And in a pitch made to reporters about the new apps, it reminded them of the company’s inclusion in Prism.

“It might have made people talk more about us,” said Wilson Kriegel, Paltalk’s chief operating officer, who is overseeing its rebranding. “But it deters from what we’re trying to do in the market.”

Still, it is unlikely that Paltalk would have earned a mention on The Colbert Report without Prism. “Folks, you know what that means,” Mr. Colbert intoned. “We are this close to figuring out what Paltalk is.”

For those who still don’t know, here is your answer.

Paltalk’s biggest selling point is that it allows an unlimited number of people in group chats, unlike Skype, Google Plus and other services. Most use it to chat with people they don’t necessarily know about topics like karaoke, sports or dating. Paltalk makes most of its money from people who upgrade to the subscription version. It also earns revenue from selling virtual goods and ads.

But it had never moved beyond its identity as a mid-1990s chat service.

So Jason Katz, Paltalk’s founder and chief executive, hired Mr. Kriegel in December to bring the product up to date, make more money and try to sell the company. That’s similar to the role Mr. Kriegel played at Omgpop, the gaming company sold to Zynga.

The makeover includes the new tablet apps, which are attractive and easy to use. People can choose topics they want to discuss or friends they want to talk to and add video feeds with the swipe of a finger.

Paltalk is also building an improved Web site to replace the downloadable client and updating its mobile apps. It is trying to tap into more high-quality content, because it is more interesting to advertisers than people making meaningless comments while listening to music together. It is providing the software to other companies who could use it to host their own video chats or to import videos into Paltalk for online discussion. And it has enabled users to link their Facebook or Google Plus accounts to Paltalk.

Like Chatroulette, the infamous video chat site, the open nature of Paltalk means there is a fair amount of not-suitable-for-work material on the site. Mr. Kriegel said in an interview that Paltalk had parental controls, filtering tools and systems for flagging inappropriate content, as well as 300 people who monitored chat rooms.

Paltalk’s 5.5 million monthly active users are split among the United States, Europe and the Middle East, which might explain the government’s interest in monitoring some of its foreign users.

Mr. Kriegel, like spokespeople for the other Internet companies, said Paltalk had never heard of Prism or provided the government with direct access to its servers. Unlike the other companies, it has no full-time compliance people tasked with responding to government requests. Instead, when it gets requests, which he said is not often, it hires an outside law firm and pulls people off their day jobs to track down the data.

Paltalk does not store or record chats, Mr. Kriegel said. But he said he did not know whether it could enable the government to monitor chats in real time.