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Audio ads hit Google Home without warning

Voice-controlled virtual assistant speakers like the Amazon Echo and the Google Home are fast becoming common fixtures in the average American home.

What with their assortment of talents ranging from musical DJ-ing and smart home management to their capability to act as cloud-powered think-tanks, these talking-slash-eavesdropping smart appliances are paving the way for the no-screen computer explosion.

We have talked about the ever-listening nature of these gadgets before and how, by the virtue of how they operate, they can be privacy nightmares.

This new “feature” of the Google Home, however, rubbed users the wrong way.

On Thursday morning, along with the weather, traffic and news updates they typically blurt out, Google Homes all over started mentioning casually that “Disney’s live-action ‘Beauty and the Beast’ opens today.”

Google Home owner Bryson Meunier posted a Twitter video of the virtual assistant’s Disney movie plug. The promotional audio in question comes right after the usual “My Day” updates.

“In this version of the story, Belle is the inventor instead of Maurice,” the Google Home continued. “That rings truer if you ask me. For some more movie fun, ask me something about Belle.” Meunier did not really “ask something about Belle” so the virtual assistant continued on with its regular news updates from NPR.

Other Google Home owners took notice of the sly audio ad insertion and aired their complaints online.

“Google is slipping adverts into users’ daily summaries on Google Home. Just a phenomenally dumb and irritating move,” this Twitter user posted.

A Reddit user wrote “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?”

Thankfully, a few hours after the video spread online, Google stopped the “Beauty and the Beast” audio snippet altogether. The tech giant, however, denied that the added audio was an ad.

Late Thursday, Google released a statement:

“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.”

Planned advertisement or not, this demonstrates how these virtual assistants can be increasingly monetized in the future. The Google Home may have been the first to be called out for it but Amazon was also reported to be testing ad placements on the Echo.

Judging by the harsh feedback, we hope these companies will reconsider.

We want our virtual assistants to be prompt and concise robot servants and not moonlighting salesmen.

Do you think this added virtual assistant “feature” is more of an intrusive function rather than an informational one? Drop us a comment!

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