Recently, some Google Home owners have been noticing something odd going on with their devices. When asked a typical question one might expect to ask the smart speaker, customers like Bryson Meunier took note of an extra piece of information tacked on to their daily weather report:
After getting plenty of flack online from consumers and tech sites about this confusing message, Google replied to tech blog The Verge with a response that raises some questions:
“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.”
Whether or not this content was intended to be an ad for one brings to light the fact that with products like these, the language and phrasing of what is relayed through the device matters. If consumers are to truly believe that Google gains no promotional advantage from placements like this, seems as if they’re going to have hide the evidence a little better than that (in my perspective, the background music in this video clip really gives it away).
In the Core77 discussion boards, readers bring up another good point about this conundrum. MK19 writes,
“Obviously the cost of the product is subsidized because this is how they will ultimately make money back – but if you paid anything for the product at all should you not be able to opt out? Should they be selling a higher cost version which opts out of ads? Many questions arise for the future from this as a Product Designer.”
Google has since ceased sharing this “content” with Google Home owners, claiming that those with the Home won’t be hearing any more of these ads or ones similar to them. However, knowing even a little bit about the timeline of Google and its complicated history with ads (the founders prior to starting the site were notably anti-ad), it’s hard not to see this as a potentially naive farce.
In the boards, Cyberdemon digs into Google’s Terms of Service to investigate Google’s leeway in situations like this where lines are blurred between content and promotion, finding this subsection:
“Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.”
MK19 follows this with a breakdown of what this particular part of the agreements means for this particular Beauty and the Beast ad.
“So in order to defend this you would have to be claiming;
A: The owner frequently visits the cinema. and/or,
B: The owner has shown interest in Beauty and the Beast through Google Searches or YouTube video views or other. and/or,
C: The owner has shown interest in [insert actor] who features in the film through other Google services.
If any of these or similar are the case then I agree the “ad” is more acceptable. However, what is your opinion if none of these examples or similar are true and relevant?
Also do you think whether or not it is an “ad” depends upon whether it is financially motivated or not? I would say that is an objective differentiator, personally.”
It’s important to note that some who reported hearing the ad were not searching for the film previously or anything seemingly related. What many people seem to be asking after this incident is, does Google have the right to bombard us for advertisements that we never even asked for? Cyberdemon brings up in the boards an interesting thought to ponder:
“After the rest of the info came out, I agree it’s not acceptable (but predictable) […]
But either way, as with all IoT type hardware, sadly you own very little of it. Just because you paid for the hardware does not entitle you to the same level of “Rights” that it used to. Service providers have a big stake in the game. Same reason you can’t go out and buy an Unlocked phone for the same cost as a subsidized device.”
So we’re interested to hear from you designers—how do you feel about tech product’s intimate relationship nowadays with the worlds of advertising and marketing? Is the incorporation of advertising in products avoidable? How will this change the trajectory and function of tech products in the future?