Google Home, Google’s answer to the Amazon Echo, has had a pretty rocky launch. That’s fairly typical of Google products; some are wildly successful, while others, like Google+ and the Google Nexus, barely make it off the pad.
Now, according to a report from Engadget, Google Home users have picked up on what they’re calling ads – while Google denies the accusation, countering that it’s “timely content.”
The alleged ad in question was first spotted by Google Home user and redditor CaptainCaptioni. He got out of bed, started getting ready for work, and said, “Ok Google, good morning,” as he now does every morning as part of his routine. Google Home responds by giving him the time and the weather forecast, as it always does.
But then it started talking about Disney’s latest film.
“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.”
CaptainCaptioni added that he had not previously searched for the film and it didn’t reflect his interests. And he wasn’t the only one.
Bryson Meunier of Search Engine Land took to Twitter with a clip of his Google Home speaking the “ad” and mentioned that the “Beauty & the Beast promo is one way Google could monetize Home.” Other Home users noted similar experiences, typically without ever having shown any interest in the movie before.
When reached for comment, a Google spokesperson replied that it wasn’t an ad. It was, rather, a “feature” called My Day.
“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.
“The beauty in the Assistant is that it invites our partners to be our guest and share their tales.”
In fairness, previous “timely content” has come up on Google Home without prompting. But that content was related to Black History Month and the Oscars. Many are calling foul, claiming that they didn’t pay $130 to be advertised to.
And according to a report from BBC, the “ad” has since disappeared without a trace.
Ben Wood, an analyst from CCS Insight, noted that Google faces a “tricky” situation with the Home, as unlike competitor Amazon, their primary business model is predicated on advertising. The risk, he said, is that unlike Google’s other forms of advertising, audio ads can be incredibly intrusive.
“For Amazon its about transactional revenue where a voice assistant like Echo can help drive sales.”
That’s a model that Amazon already has some experience with. While it has ultimately been a bit of a failure, Amazon released the Amazon Dash Button in 2015 – a simple one-press button which could be pressed to reorder specific products, through Amazon, of course. The concept is to order simple household products – like Tide detergent, Maxwell House coffee, Bounty paper towels, Cottonelle toilet paper – with the press of a single button which could be placed anywhere near the product. For a certain segment of the population, it’s a great idea. Everyone has forgotten to purchase essentials at one time or another and regretted it.
The Dash Button is still available, but never really took off – but it could almost be seen as a practice run for a similar feature on the Echo. That feature hasn’t materialized yet, but it’s pretty much inevitable. And when it comes to monetization, Google has nothing comparable; they’re a company built on ad revenue and market data.
Whether intentional or not, ads are out for Google Home – for now.
But don’t be too surprised if they start sneaking back in.
[Featured Image by Kim Jin-a/Newsis/AP Images]