Trouble seems to be piling up at Google Home land. Although rising in popularity and usefulness, Google’s smart home hub and speaker is also rising in notoriety. First was the admittedly comical and fortunately harmless incident with its Super Bowl ad triggering speakers everywhere. Then there was the rather embarrassing fake news issue. This time, it’s ads. Users have reported, and recorded, Google Home blurting out an add for the opening of the live action Beauty and the Beast film. Google insists, however, that it was just an honest mistake and not the start of ads on Google Home.
No, the speaker doesn’t suddenly speak out when not asked. The “advertisement”, which informs the user that the film has opened, was almost randomly inserted into Google Home’s routine response to a “tell me about my day” query. At least one owner, Search Engine Land author Bryson Meunier, recorded how Home interrupted its usual flow of information to interject the following:
“By the way, Disney’s live action Beauty and The Beast opens today. In this version of the story, Belle is the inventor instead of Maurice. That rings truer if you ask me. For some more movie fun, ask me something about Belle.”
— brysonmeunier (@brysonmeunier) March 16, 2017
Users are up in arms about this for two main reasons. The first is that it extends the time it takes for Google Home to complete its summary of the day’s highlights, which users have specifically enabled or disabled to suit their preference. To add insult to injury, the interruption comes right in the middle, not at the end. It’s as if Google Home suddenly remembered a non-sequitur trivia and decided to let you know, right in between the weather and the news.
More worrisome for others, however, is the advertorial nature of the information. Some of the users insist they have never even made a Google search for the film or anything related to it. And still some are peeved that Google would randomly insert unrelated information in a section that some users consider sacrosanct.
For its part, Google claims there was no advertising involved. It was technically a part of that same “My Day” feature that aims to provide helpful information about the day. Sometimes, it pulls in timely content such as this, though it doesn’t explain why this specific piece of information was chosen.
Google does admit that it could have done better in how it surfaced “unique” content to users. Just like how it could have done better to make sure users don’t end up with fake news or misleading information. These incidents, however, do highlight some of the inherent issues of these smart speakers, where users have less control over what goes in or out of the devices, compared to smartphones, for example.