Emergent Tech

Artificial Intelligence

Spammy Google Home spouts audio ads without warning – now throw yours in the trash

Watch web giant destroy its own product

By Katyanna Quach

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Video Google Home, the web giant's internet-connected talking personal assistant, has started spamming audio adverts to unsuspecting folk today.

Never before have we witnessed a technology giant destroy a product with such precision-engineered idiocy. Don't be evil? Do us a favor.

Promos for Disney's new Beauty and the Beast flick, released in American cinemas today, are being mixed into Google Home's responses to questions. In a test with a Home owned by a Reg writer, the chatbot device started touting the kids movie in between telling the time and news headlines. This is with the default configuration: no opt-ins or opt-outs.

In a car-crash video, uploaded to Twitter by Bryson Meunier, a Google Home is asked: “Okay Google, what’s my day like?” The chatbot answers the question by telling him the time, the weather and what his commute is like. So far, so good.

But then, it sneakily adds: “By the way, Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast opens today.” Soft piano music is played, and the ad continues running.

“For some more movie fun, ask me something about Belle. Have a good one,” it cheekily concludes, referring to the movie's character. Now, we're aware of the irony of complaining about ads spouted by a device, only to then offer to play the ad to you, but it's honestly so creepy and stupid, it'll make you reconsider the myth that Google hires only the smartest people on the planet.

Unsurprisingly, folks – who have shelled out $129 for one of these things – aren’t thrilled. “I'm not a fan of ads on this device. I don't believe I've done any searching for the film either, so I think it's not due to perceived interest. Has anyone else heard similar ads?” one bod wrote on Reddit.

Google Home is just one of the few virtual assistants available. Most major technology companies are locked in a race to build the best chatbot, one that appeals to everyone.

The chatbot hype has been riding on the coattails of AI. The technology is new and companies are keen to monetise these gadgets. Using it for advertising is the next obvious step, and Google are the first to trial this service.

"Chatbots could totally be a trillion-dollar industry," Dan Gailey, co-founder of Radbots, a startup that is developing ways to add adverts into chatbots, previously told The Register. But adverts have to be relevant and added when it’s least likely to irritate the user, Gailey said. Perhaps someone should let Google know that.

Google was not available for immediate comment. ®

Updated to add

Google's official response to this is absolutely pants-on-head mad:

This isn't an ad; the beauty in the Assistant is that it invites our partners to be our guest and share their tales.

Another update

Google's had a bit of a think, and now a spokesperson has come back to us with this:

This wasn’t intended to be an ad. What’s circulating online was a part of our My Day feature, where after providing helpful information about your day, we sometimes call out timely content. We’re continuing to experiment with new ways to surface unique content for users and we could have done better in this case.

Meanwhile, we gather Google Homes are no longer spamming Disney's Beauty and the Beast promos to unsuspecting households.

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